A school of orange roughy, a deep-sea fish known for its spectacular color and great longevity, swims overhead. There are whales up there too, pale bodies illuminated so their gracefully curved ribs and bone structures show through. A sturgeon glides by — an especially ancient fish whose evolution dates back to the Triassic Age, but this one has a knitted head, canvas body and nuts and bolts as its bony scutes.
Sea life and the depths of the oceans have taken over Barre’s Studio Place Arts. “Deep Blue,” an exhibition of two- and three-dimensional artwork by more than two dozen artists, contemplates the world’s oceans and oceanic life. From fish overhead to divers in the depths, the crash of waves to an installation considering the monumental problem of plastics pollution, “Deep Blue” takes viewers to the sea.
Opened last week and continuing to May 4, “Deep Blue” is on exhibit for SPA’s Big Arty SPA Happening (BASH), the community art center’s annual fundraising gala from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 12.
An exhibition of graphite drawings by Teresa Celemin is in SPA’s Third Floor Gallery. Celemin’s “Works on Paper” includes figure drawings, abstracts, marks, words, symbols, and fantastical creatures. The annual silent auction to benefit SPA programs fills the Second Floor Gallery with paintings, drawings, photographs, ceramics, sculpture and more.
“Many of us landlocked Vermonters long to hear the surf and feel coastal breezes on our cheeks,” explains Sue Higby, SPA executive director, who organized the show with local artist Michael Ridge. “The exhibit helps to satisfy our yearning for vast, mysterious expanses of the sea with a mix of artwork that intertwines the imaginary with new takes on the natural world.”
From the surface to the depths, the artworks of “Deep Blue” reflect on the seas.
Elizabeth Nelson and Frank Woods are among the artists who consider the intersection of aquatic and atmospheric realms. The two oil paintings of Woods’ “Paysage littorale” series evoke a sense of looking out to sea. His broad bands of blues stretch across the panels, their color deepening as the ocean bottom falls from the land. Waves crash in Nelson’s “Into the Ocean” and “Revnistjara Beach 2” as water and air mix. Her grays and whites evoke the chill of the North Atlantic. Both were inspired by the coast and seas of Iceland.
“Lure,” by Tuyen My Nguyen, considers a consequence of human activity. Sheets of gossamer-thin diaphanous plastic hang overhead in SPA’s back entry. With the slightest breeze or movement they sway, as though floating and dangling through the water, their density blocking the light above.
“This installation simultaneously lures viewers in and hints at the experience of suffocation, hopefully triggering us to be more conscious of our use of plastics and the impact it has on our big beautiful planet,” explains Nguyen in her artist’s statement.
Humankind makes other appearances, including playful ones. In Robert Towne’s movie poster-like “Terror Reef,” a needle-toothed denizen of the deep lurks in the seaweed as a cheery gaggle of snorkelers descend to its world. “Mutant Atomic Horror Lures Spring Breakers,” the poster announces, as swimmers reach for the fish’s bait.
“Uncle Finbarr,” in cut paper with red hair shooting up and brown beard hanging down, is perhaps lost in seafaring thought. By James Marshall Frase-White, “Uncle Finbarr” is accompanied by a poem in SPA’s book of artists’ statements for the show, both conveying Finbarr’s love of the sea.
Schools of fish, pods of whales, and other three-dimensional pieces bring viewers into the underwater world. In a little booth, curtains held back by octopus tentacles, is “Undiscovered,” a luminous, tentacled, enchanting little creature. The installation by Michael Ridge brings to mind that the sea is still brimming with mysteries.
Kristian Brevik’s cloth and lighting pieces include sailing ship hats (really wearable!) and a trio of whales. With lights and skeletal structure inside them, the pale fabric creatures glow, their slender frames reminders of their fragility.
Shannon Lee Gilmour’s school of orange roughy features lifesize fish made of post-consumer plastics.
“As an artist and activist, I find the orange roughy to be a particularly moving symbol of the conflict between the natural world and human overpopulation and environmental degradation. The last remaining few 150-year-old orange roughy, measuring 30 inches long, swimming in the deep blue ocean at this moment, existed before the invention of the automobile, before the Wright brothers flew the first airplane, before WWI, and finally before plastic was even invented,” says Gilmour in her artist’s statement.