Vista artists are playing a game of Gossip.
Instead of passing a phrase around in whispers, the local painters, sculptors and printmakers are passing around their own works and creating new pieces inspired by those of their peers. The circle started with Charles Courtney Curran painting “Sunset, The Envious Fox,” currently on exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art and selected by Chief Curator Will South. Artists “responded” to the piece preceding theirs in the series, beginning with “non-objective” abstract painter Eileen Blyth responding to Curran’s impressionist work.
Twelve artists worked one month at a time over the period of a year to create a collection of pieces inspired by each other, but still embodying each artist’s unique style.
“The artists stayed true to their own style of painting, but chose another aspect of the art they were looking at,” said Pat Gilmartin, a sculptor who used salvaged glass to create a mosaic laid over sheet music.
The series will be shown as part of Artista Vista, a “gallery crawl” in the downtown hospitality district featuring free art shows at the area’s galleries. The event, which will last Thursday through Saturday, showcases art by local artists as well as those known nationally. Many shows will also feature performance art and opportunities to chat with artists and gallery owners. This is the 24th year the gallery crawl has been presented by the galleries and the Vista Guild.
“Gossip” will premiere at Gallery 80808, where the 12 artists also have studios, on Thursday at 5 p.m. The pieces will be presented in the order they were created to show the translation of the original ideas. Some of the artists were able to see the entire series together before the public debut and were stunned to see the visual threads that tied the pieces together and back to the original Curran painting.
“When we did the reveal, both the color and line curve were the very things I had taken and extracted from the original painting. Here I was at the end, never seeing the painting, echoing those lines,” said stone sculptor Sharon Collings Licata, who sculpted a piece of cream and tan alabaster in reaction to a semi-abstract painting by Stephen Chesley. “It was one of those mouth drop open moments. I was amazed.”
The curves and colors of the feathery cirrus clouds and the roundness of the boulders in the original painting were echoed throughout the series, according to many of the artists. “Sunset, The Envious Fox” features a “wisp of a paintbrush stroke” of a fox on a rocky ridge, staring up into a pastel sky, said Eileen Blyth, whose “non-objective” abstract piece was the first in the series, and a response to the Curran painting.
“I got to see the image itself and respond to it, which was in some ways an advantage and a disadvantage,” Blyth said. “The advantage was I knew the sentence. I heard it exactly. There’s something about that that in your mind, there’s clarity. But clarity isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.”
Blyth used the “energy of the painting and the clouds” and the subtle movement of a bird in flight to inspire her piece. She was surprised to see the elements that she chose make it all the way through the series.
“How did we do that? Going from an abstract painter to a landscape painter to a sculptor to glass, how did we make it all the way through?” Blyth said. “The 12 of us were just doing our thing. The universe just worked it out for us.”
New public art revealed
The Vista Guild will also unveil a new piece of public art on Thursday, the first night of Artista Vista. The sculpture by semi-abstract artist Stephen Chesley, who also contributed to “Gossip,” will be revealed at its permanent location on Lady Street.
If you go: Galleries participating in Artista Vista will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. on Thursday and regular hours on Friday and Saturday. A complete list of participating galleries can be found at artistavista.com. Admission to all is free.
Amanda C. Coyne