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In bloom: Roy Volkmann’s Calla Lily on display at the Carrie Haddad Gallery.

Stamen Power
By David Brickman

Botanica
Carrie Haddad Gallery, through April 27

It may not be the most ground-breaking idea for an exhibition, but the Botanica show at Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson is an apt entry into the spring season we’ve all been wishing would just get here already and stay.

About 50 pieces by 15 artists, all but a few of them painters, are comfortably spread throughout the rambling, two-story space where owner Haddad holds court. Unlike most successful dealers, she is neither concerned about seeming sufficiently cutting-edge nor afraid to intermingle new talents with more established ones; the result is that this show is both a bit challenging and as familiar as an old neighbor.

Marking the extremes of experience among the artists included are Jeff Briggs, a newly minted BFA having his first show, and Richard Baker, whose résumé boasts more than a dozen solos at New York City galleries. For Briggs, it is a fine debut: His three oil landscapes evoke light, color and movement with deftly brushed patterns in a quasi-pointillist style. He’ll be one to watch in the future.

Baker offers pieces in three media and, if his skill were less, one would complain about the inconsistency of the selection. But the one pastel, one charcoal and two oils on wood are so masterfully rendered as to disarm the critic within.

The drawings (like everything else in the show, they’re of flowers) have that confident, easy quality that makes the work of such artists as Matisse and Picasso so delightful. And Baker’s Dutch-style oil studies of individual, robust tulip blooms set against vague landscapes are lovely and iconic.

Less successful are the sterile floral still lifes of Taylor Harbison. With their dramatic lighting, dark backgrounds and big, gold frames, these are the sort of paintings that easily find a place among antique furnishings in conservative homes, but they are not sufficiently well-painted to transcend their superficial nature.

In a similar mode, but far more convincing, Lucy Reitzfeld’s unframed canvases capture a playful note by placing as much (or more) emphasis on the vase as on the flowers. Particularly successful is one titled Fanciful Vase, in which a sparse arrangement is nearly outshone by the enameled flower pattern on the vase that holds it.

Some of the artists in this group seek to vivify their subject matter with innovative techniques, such as Ana Demertzis, whose Tulipa—Purple Parrot triptych successfully imitates the look of an old fresco, or the duo Kahn and Selesnick, whose three flashe-on-plaster pieces are in the form of a half-circle.

Still, Anne Francey gets far more energy into her work, not by technical innovation but by seeing in a new way. Her large acrylic on linen, Pink Rumination I, lives up to its title by roaming the picture plane to fill it with leafy washes of pink, green, rust and gray silhouettes, making of itself a near-abstract exploration of positive and negative space.

In two other pieces, Francey uses a similar looseness to create small gouache studies on rice paper, then groups them into framed grids of nine sheets that the viewer can compare and contrast. It’s a nice way to both reveal the process of seeing, and invite the audience to join in.

By far the freshest stuff in the show comes from Truro, Mass.-based Bob Bailey, whose pop-inspired wall reliefs combine sophisticated design sense and perfect craftsmanship to engage the viewer in an uncomplicated, fun encounter.

Landing, a huge, improbably striped bloom, consists of five separate forms grouped around an empty, white-walled center circle. Clasp, though perhaps not a flower at all, wins us over with its jaunty shape and the sharp color design of a postmodernist brooch—however, being more than 2 feet across, it goes on a wall, not a dress.

Two digitally printed black-and-white photographs by Roy Volkmann also utilize scale to transform the subject, in this case a rose and a calla lily. They beckon the visitor upstairs to the photography gallery, where a series of 10 prints by newcomer Carl Dellatore awaits.

Dellatore has taken inspiration from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s brilliant novel 100 Years of Solitude to create still lifes with flowers and other objects, all arrayed on the same rough-hewn slab of wood. Unfortunately, this Wood Plank Series, though lovingly and skillfully rendered in sepia tones on textured paper, comes off as more sentimental than symbolic.

Back downstairs, brash paintings by Frank Litto remind one that there’s no need to be ponderous, not when spring is in the air and every blossom on a branch of magnolia is worth studying individually. Litto’s willingness to revel in both petals and paint best captures the spirit of this show, as do the unapologetically exuberant cone flower studies by Marie-Louise McHugh that beckon to passersby from the gallery’s front window.

It’s nice to be reminded that art doesn’t have to be overly serious to be good or inspiring. Sometimes a sunny subject and the willingness to take a close look are enough. Take note: If you’re planning to see this show, there isn’t much time, as it ends on Sunday (April 27).


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