“The Big Show” at Silas Marder: Less is More

No matter what exhibit is on view at Bridgehampton’s Silas Marder Gallery, half the attraction is the ambience. Not only is the venue located in a barn-styled structure, but the outside continues the theme with bales of hay scattered among the chairs. Separate movie screenings are held there as well, which makes the whole environment a real pleasure to experience. The surrounding trees and shrubs from the Marder nursery also contribute to this unique place.

“The Big Show” currently at the Gallery is unusual, too, considering that some 50 artists were commissioned to create three 8”x10” paintings for the exhibit. The positioning of the small works is similarly intriguing, the entire endeavor resembling an installation rather than individual pieces.

Considered from another point-of-view, the small format evokes issues of technique. For instance, some artists must work with smaller brushes if they are used to producing larger canvases. Then there’s the idea of changing focus from large to small planes; this alteration may effect the application of paint. There’s also the matter of subject matter, some artists employing their bigger pieces as a point-of-departure when adjusting to smaller imagery.

For example, cats are reproduced in works by Cornelia Foss, animals seen in her larger garden paintings through the years. Ditto for Alex Russo’s abstractions reminiscent of his bigger waterfalls and winter forests. Both Foss and Russo draw on their personal and long-standing love of nature, transferring this passion to works no matter what their size. Rex Lau also recreates geometric detail from his larger works featuring Middle Eastern designs.

The show’s format also calls attention to aesthetics. Consider this analogy: large canvases are like a novel, while smaller ones are poems. This means that an artist must abbreviate his or her message when creating a smaller poetic piece. It’s almost as if the creator must “zoom in” on a detail that tells the entire story. Janet Culbertson does just this with her political statement about the environment. A lizard and skeleton head against a black background give emphasis to a rose
which is also black; thus pollution will destroy nature’s beauty.

However, several paintings convey imagery that seem appropriate for a small canvas without any references to the artist’s previous works. Consider the female portrait by Lynn Matsouka (“Learning to Love”) where context is missing (no background). Yet this fact gives the portrait its inherent mystery. Sally Breen’sPurple Morning” emphasizes a similar kind of mystery with her skyscape, the sky and water appearing to expand beyond the picture plane.

Narrative paintings are present in the show as well, all of which contain a story complete within the canvas itself. Both “Couple” by Francesca Fuchs and “Area Rug” by Charles Ly are two such
effective examples.

“The Big Show” at Silas Marder Gallery will be on view until June 24, 2012. (120 Snake Hollow Road, Bridgehampton), Call 631-702-2306 for information.

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