Solo exhibitions can unearth the unbound essence of an artist –their process, foundation, nourishment, and growth– with intensity and valor. While this earnest presentation of art is often liberating, a selective group exhibition can likewise illuminate new waves of understanding. So is the case with a new foursome exhibition at Gallery4 on Main Rd. in Tiverton Four Corners where Turkish slippers, fine jewelry, and wall-sized canvases flourish together side-by-side. Here four prominent south coast-area women have been chosen to exhibit their work in a showing titled, “Quartet: Harmony and Dissonance,” which will run through August 12th, exposing not only the depth of each female artist, but the “harmony and dissonance” between them.
The works of Jane Tuckerman, Gayle Wells Mandle, Susan Strauss, and Sarah Benham adorn eager white walls filling the gallery with familiar excitement and a new sense of importance. The four women who live as neighbors along the south coast have now come together in a poignant display of their experiences apart, in separate corners of the world.
“It’s a clever name,” says Sarah Benham reflecting on the title amidst a backdrop of opening-night attendees and her bold, figurative oil paintings. Showing are both early and late works by Benham who likens her process to a lucid puzzle, “it’s about finding a solution” she says. Inspired by the simple pleasures of life, Benham has spiraled through style and medium during her honored career as an artist, always considering the wise words of a friend: “to always be astonished by what you do. And I am astonished” she says. There are many ways to be astonished by Benham’s paintings. First it’s the figures that grab you, then the density and depth of the scene. They are faceless jolts of color and mood awakening the senses and mesmerizing in their perfection.
The exhibit, orchestrated by gallery owners Bob Smith, Elaine Hill, and Alix Cambell struck a chord of enthusiasm in the community with over 150 people gathering last Sunday for the opening reception. The works handpicked and juxtaposed in the four-room gallery gave enough space for each artist to breathe while infusing one another with vibrancy and contrast.
Tucked away in one nook of the gallery last Sunday was Susan Strauss whose landscapes and floral masterpieces float effortlessly on the walls as if growing there on their own. A master of decorative arts, Strauss is a fresh face in the gallery, yet her plein air paintings are exuberantly lived in. Their immediate transparency morphs into luminous and muddled movement the longer you let them in, drawing forth intellect, grace, and wonder. Strauss describes a satisfying fluidity to her path of “pushing back and painting over, pushing back and painting over,” and eventually pulling forward her work into a new dimension. That is when she knows her work is complete.
Neighboring Strauss was artist Gayle Wells Mandle present at the opening with husband Roger Mandle, former president of the Rhode Island School of Design. The couple spent time in Qatar, inspiring Gayle’s striking selection of collaged fragments from this land of wealth and discord, elegantly blended with color, texture, and cultural artifacts in a rousing display of gender clash and blunt symbolism. Fascinating is how she recreates a history of travel, human rights, and cultural tribulation while still speculating on the future of this oil-saturated part of our world. Gayle’s work is piercing as she pieces together parts of humanity we might choose to ignore, extracting for the viewer something imperative to consider.
Lastly, former chairman of photography at Harvard University, Jane Tuckerman, took the right wing of the gallery with chilling mixed-media photographs of her lifelong study in the mystical world of death rituals. Since 1984 she’s been returning to Benares, India, the last existing site of cremation ceremonies and one of the world’s most sacred spiritual hubs. Here she began capturing religious rituals, rights of passage, and celebrations with vigor through film and photograph. With an anthropological twist, her layered photographs peer with sharp eyes into a world frightfully unknown. Astounding is the way she shapes darkness into something primitive and eloquent. Her work puts forth a magnetic pull of emotion into the descending layers of each photograph.
Even still, Tuckerman emphasizes, with deep understanding, connections within humanity; “We’re all so displaced and haunted by memories—memories become our own special ghosts.” Growing up in rural Westport spawned an obsession with the energy and history of a land; “Westport has this extraordinary connection to this history, Indians, colonists, pre-historic people…It’s about connection to the land, something our culture is loosing,” says Tuckerman. “There’s something very primal about art. Artists connect with each other and with a greater world. I’m appreciative and in awe of Gallery4 for their foresight and sensitivity to this exhibit and the world of art.” she says.
A fondness for the quest, the solution, and the layers of aesthetic, social, and spiritual life give harmony to these four women. But the beauty is in the dissonance.
Quartet: Harmony and Dissonance is open for viewing Monday-Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 12-5 at 3848 Main Rd, Tiverton, RI. For more information about this exhibit visit www.gallery4tiverton.com