Friday, May 7, 2010

Solid Air

Solid Air

By Tom Wachunas

The magic of the Impressionists - Monet and Renoir in particular – still holds powerful sway over me. They were courageous purveyors of the unreasonable idea that well-placed, thick daubs of paint could capture and communicate the transitory effects of light on a person, a place, a thing. Their works are an intricate language born out of an unconditional surrender to the viscous physicality of pigments suspended in oily binders. From this mundane, ancient science they composed visual wonders imbued with otherworldly beauty. A perfected marriage of the tangible and spiritual.

It is that same sensibility (though in distinctly more abstract terms) very much at work in the current exhibition of collages by Clare Murray Adams, on view at Anderson Creative through May 29. “Of Time and Place” is a collection of 52 two-sided collages. It’s the culmination of Adams’ ambitious project of making one collage per week over one year, producing an elegantly codified record of seasonal changes as they unfolded on her 50-acre farm. From the perspective of rendering pure atmosphere, what the Impressionists managed to accomplish with paint, Adams has equally mastered with an enthralling mix of sewn fabric, paper and shellac.

And let’s not forget color. Here is a sumptuously tactile combination of the transparent and the opaque, the saturated and translucent, all orchestrated to convey the subtle visual transformations, on a week-to-week basis, that each season brings. From the gentle monotones and muted pastels of winter, to the verdant intensities of summer and autumn, all of the collages exude an uncanny luminosity.

Accompanying the collages are Adams’ written descriptions of their content, along with more personal observations of her process and moments of discovery. Her writing style is at times disarmingly simple and matter-of-fact, yet always colored with a warm lyricism apropos to the bucolic surrounds that inspired the imagery. Those images, in turn, are visual poems in their own right, each a complete, independent entity nonetheless in delicate dialogue with the next.

The problem of how to display two-sided pictures was ingeniously resolved by gallery owner Kevin Anderson. The collages hang, each with two long wires unobtrusively attached, from the ceiling, arranged in short rows. The overall effect plays up both the vertical and horizontal aspects of the long gallery space, and produces an inviting sensation of strolling through an orchard or woods abuzz with life and color.

Seen as a unified whole, this installation is a stunning testament to the persistence as well as the evanescence of memory – a participatory autobiography. As viewers we vicariously walk the farm with the artist, immersed in sights, even smells and sounds, both present and past. In the text under the heading “Fall into Winter,” Adams writes, “The musicality of the air is different now. The fourth movement has undertones of base notes.” And later she reflects, “I ruminated around in my mind closets. Memory played a much larger part in the work than expected. Subtle references occur that allowed me to visit my past.”

It’s all a very compelling invitation for us to do the same, and be the richer for it.

Photo: Installation, “Of Time and Place,” collages by Clare Murray Adams, on view through May 29 at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are noon to 5p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

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