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Sunday, November 28, 2021

A parallel play of Parallel Plays

Sculptures and drawings by Chris Duncan are part of a four-person show at the Schick
Art Gallery on the campus of Skidmore College
all photos provided
In an odd coincidence, two shows that are separated (joined?) by about 30 miles of Northway and overlapping in schedule have the same title: Parallel Play. The term refers to a behavior that young children at an early stage of development will engage in, where they do not interact, but play at the same activity side by side.

In the case of the first of these shows, which ends on Thursday (Dec. 2), Skidmore College’s Schick Art Gallery in Saratoga Springs has gathered four sculptors and is exhibiting works by each in both two and three dimensions – the parallel between those dimensions is what’s referenced here.

The other show, which continues through Dec. 18 at the Lake George Arts Project’s Courthouse Gallery in Lake George Village, is a solo by the Troy-based fiber artist Barbara Todd, who has mounted a multilayered installation of related works, exploring a parallel within her meticulous working process.

Wind, by Mary Neubauer
(DeWitt Godfrey's Ander in background)
Both shows are excellent examples of making the most of a small but high-quality exhibition space, and well worth a drive to see. We took that drive on Saturday, and it lifted our spirits amid sunny skies and frigid temperatures. I’ll discuss the Schick show first, as it ends so soon.

Co-curated by Schick staff and Skidmore sculpture professor John Galt, this Parallel Play features the work of Chris Duncan, DeWitt Godfrey, Coral Penelope Lambert, and Mary Neubauer in a slightly crowded installation of approximately 35 works covering a healthy variety of media. A few additional works are exhibited in a display case near the entrance to the Saisselin Art Center, where the gallery is housed, and another is on an outdoor patio, underscoring the sense of a space nearly bursting its seams.

As with our exemplary toddlers, these four artists play nicely together, each pursuing strong directions while balancing into a whole that, for me, elevates an awareness of materials and processes. It’s not so common around here to see a showcase for sculpture and, though this work is mostly smaller in scale, the effect of three-dimensional objects, with their strong physical and tactile presence, is fully felt in this selection.

A DeWitt Godfrey drawing
The show’s premise, which places each artist’s two-dimensional works in juxtaposition with the 3-D ones is also effective. Three of the four include drawings (almost always the first building block of a sculptor’s ideas), while one features photographs. This last, Neubauer, derives her forms from massive weather-related databases, which could have been translated as well into graphic representations that may have felt like sketches, but as color photographs they come across more like finished works in their own right. Her sculptures firmly occupy the space around them, bulky, beautifully patinated, and displayed on custom pedestals.

Duncan, a sculpture professor at Union College, presents a total of 13 works here, revealing an artist in full command of his medium, whether paint on paper or anything you can crush or fold into a form and then embellish with color and texture. While Neubauer’s work clearly aims to discuss our changing climate, Duncan is content to express himself more obtusely, delivering emotional jabs with gloomy, calligraphic gestures and bright, shiny splashes of color.

Insipid Sun, by Coral Penelope Lambert
Godfrey is represented here by just two drawings and one steel sculpture, but they dominate one wall of the gallery and provide perhaps the strongest pairing of those two media in this show. His on-site installation entitled Ander evokes the natural growth pattern of a many-celled organism, while putting the viewer in touch with the straightforward process of cutting sheet steel into loops and then letting it rust. I always like an artist who can produce work that is both relatable and innovative, and Godfrey handily delivers on that promise.

I found Lambert’s work the most challenging in the show. She combines cast iron and welded steel with felt flocking, creating a contrast of the stereotypical masculine and feminine traits of hardness and softness. Her drawings are playful, even childlike, while her three sculptures shown here are as serious as military hardware. That said, rarely have I been so unable to resist touching a work of art in a gallery (generally a harsh no-no), in this case seduced by both color and texture.

A segment of Barbara Todd's installation at Lake George Arts Project

Barbara Todd has become a friend, but before I ever knew her, I was struck by her big, abstract quilts as seen in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional. Over the years, Todd has participated in other local group shows, but the current one at Lake George Arts Project is her first solo in recent memory, and it is a smash.

Combining miniature fabric-swatch sketches, medium-sized finished works of the same materials, and five larger quilts, her Parallel Play has been installed in three overlaying matrices of theme and variation that sing in vibrations of pure color.

Dragon Fried Fish, Albany, NY, January 12, 2014
At first glance, the casual viewer may not understand what Todd has going on here, and that's understandable - in all but a few of the pieces, there's nothing more to meet the eye than two juxtaposed rectangles of colored fabric, forming a perfect square on a background field of white. But Todd's persistence in this pursuit has a cumulative effect, as her tendency toward reds and yellows, greys and blues, builds into a secret but knowable language, like semaphore.

It could help to understand that every work (and there are several dozen, at least, shown here) is based on an actual experience, a sighting captured in a photograph that forms the starting point for the work. So what may appear to be simply a soft purple over a cool grey is also a specific time and place: Morning mist, Highway I 90 near Utica, October 8, 2016. And so on, and on.

In addition to the layers of private meaning in each linen piece, there are varying textures, weaves, and mixtures of thread that make up the colors, providing a lot more to reward close inspection than one might expect. Beyond that, Todd has developed some of the selected moments into larger quilts, made of luxurious wool fabric, which are warm and inviting, even while still having been built upon cool, color-theory bones. These five works are the stars of the show, but the overall installation glows brightest. See it if you can.

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