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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dualities: Martha Bone and Bart Gulley at Architecture for Art

Painting by Bart Gulley from Black and Blue series
On a recent visit to Architecture for Art in Hillsdale, Bart Gulley and I discussed dualities as I perused his two-person show with Martha Bone in the two-floor exhibition space. It was our first meeting and my first time at AforA, so there was a lot to take in and digest. AforA director Liane Torre was also on hand, explaining the unlikely genesis a year ago of this brick-and-mortar setting from a longer-term, ongoing web-based project of the same name.

Gulley's work first caught my eye in the 2011 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region at the Albany Institute of History & Art (see review here); he makes Modernist paintings and collages with great purity, having evolved from a more Expressionist style in what appears to be a reductive maturation process. The work is crisp, clear, and somewhat dry at times, but seethes with a passion beneath the expertly rendered surfaces.

Bone's installation is, according to Torre, her first exhibition of any kind, and it is an engaging and impressive debut that effectively occupies the space it was designed for. Her explorations include a wide variety of materials - plastic cable ties, rubber hose, fabric, hand-built pottery forms, and ink on paper - yet come across in a surprisingly coherent manner (an example is shown at the bottom of this post). I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.

Paper collage by Bart Gulley
So, what of the dualities? Gulley mentioned his own distinction (or lack thereof?) between a landscape-oriented approach and a tabletop arrangement. I noted that his work sometimes hovers in a grey area between image and object. Then there's the issue of graphic design (Gulley's longtime profession) vs. fine art, as well as the given duality of the mission of AforA itself. This, too, suits the topic of Gulley's painting, as it is both architectural and abstract.

As is often the case with artists immersed in various media, collage is a touchstone for Gulley. While the upstairs space holds mostly paintings (and the Bone installation), the much smaller and warmly cluttered downstairs space (think museum shop) has a powerful series of five large collages in it that are every bit as accomplished as the bigger paintings. Based on our discussion, I would venture to say that Gulley values the collages more than the paintings - with good reason, as they have the advantage of being more personal and direct in their physical presence.

Altogether, each feeds off the other. The paintings could not exist without the collages (which often act as sketches for them), but the collages gain credibility from the fact that their maker is also a highly skilled painter. Yet another duality; perhaps we'll get to discuss it the next time we meet.

Rating: Highly Recommended

Note: Martha Bone and Bart Gulley remains on view at Architecture for Art through Dec. 18; the gallery is open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and is located in the heart of Hillsdale on Route 23. If you go, plan to enjoy the drive, as it is particularly lovely country around there.

Wall installation of ceramic, fabric and rubber by Martha Bone

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