A black polygon grounded in a gray horizon stands out against a white field in each of a set of eight square artworks, “Collage Drawings” by Middlesex artist Axel Stohlberg. The geometric black forms vary, but all have a quality of artificial structures, perhaps a house, perhaps a barn, anchored in the ground seen against the sky.
“I enjoy the silhouette of buildings — for example, at the end of day, and you’re driving down the road and see the silhouette of a barn or house; there’s no detail. That’s really enjoyable to me that you identify it just from the shape. I brought that idea to those drawing-collages. I like the idea of how minimal they are,” Stohlberg said.
The set of eight “Collage Drawings” are among more than 30 artworks by Stohlberg in his solo exhibition “Abstract Vermont” at The Gallery at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin. Besides collage, the exhibition includes work in a variety of media — pastel, charcoal, acrylic and more.
Stohlberg’s solo exhibition gives viewers an opportunity to see his recent explorations of the house shape, a longtime theme of his, and also his recent abstracted landscapes.
“For years I’ve been doing the house shape, the building shape. It has become almost a signature of mine,” Stohlberg said. “In this work, I’m straddling the fence on a little abstraction, but the shape is still there in some of them. A few are pure abstract landscapes.”
“The house has a lot of meaning to me,” Stohlberg said. “I think that house shape is familiar to everybody no matter where you live.”
In Stohlberg’s work, the house is shape, not detail. His proportions in many of his works recall those of a basic New England farmhouse or barn with vertical walls and sloped roof. From there, his subject moves in myriad directions.
“I find myself at times taking away from my art, taking away detail or clutter, to just get down to minimal shapes and area in the painting,” Stohlberg said.
In “Green House,” acrylic and graphite on paper, the house emerges in just six straight lines. It rises up from a green field, a field that of color that extends up through its walls, seamlessly bringing a sense of land and structure together.
The silhouette of a barn stands against a steel gray sky in “Road Barn.” In the foreground, a bright yellow line and a more smudged white one cut across the collaged paper. There’s a sense of a passing glimpse of the stoic structure.
In “Wooded Barn” Stohlberg brings the viewer up close to the building. A fringe of treetops against a sliver of sky peers over its roof. The end wall seems to be catching the last rays of evening sun, while the expanse of side wall is nearly in shadow.
Stohlberg said it was inspired by “a building that doesn’t exist anymore. It was all by itself in the woods. I started playing around with the paint. It has these striated lines. I used a comb that tilers use for grout. The barn was ochre color. I put black on it and scraped it away and got those lines. You get some sort of sunlight on the boards. It’s a little more representational than others.”
Stohlberg, long in Vermont and founder of Axel’s Gallery in Waterbury, moved to Maine for several years and is now based again in the Green Mountains.
While Stohlberg’s house and barn shapes are central to much of his work in the show, they are not omnipresent. In “Hilltop,” acrylic on paper, topography is evoked with a curved band of green. “Blue Horizon” suggests the land meeting a lavender sky punctuated by azure clouds.
“I am constantly fascinated by what I see around me. I do not try to duplicate what I see, but make my own interpretation,” Stohlberg explained.