Walking into the Castleton University Bank Gallery in Rutland, it is immediately apparent that this is not an ordinary art exhibit. An enormous cube is situated just to the right as one enters. Each plane of the cube has a different image, in this case, of six figures of mixed race and gender, wearing dark hats in various poses of connectedness.
Matthew J. Peake, who began his adult life as a family physician in rural Vermont, and who is now engaged in art full time, both as an instructor and working artist, is very familiar with the human form and makes it the central subject of his artistic exploration. All around the room are figures in various modes of motion. Their most intriguing quality is that they are all seen from above. In fact, many of the pieces are titled “Overlooks,” which indicates an unusual perspective.
Working in a variety of media, from pastel to oil paint and photography, Peake is fascinated with views from above. It is a view that we seldom have, one that situates the viewer a few feet above the heads of the people below. It is not a usual perspective from the point of view of our day-to-day living experience in Vermont, whereas in a city, it might be more available from an escalator, or upper floor of a building.
In a series of pastel “Overlooks,” which are hung in an arc around the gallery, a variety of figures walk, dance, and play music. In “To or Fro,” four people in business attire are seen from above on a cement sidewalk grid. The neutral tones of gray and tan are in marked contrast to color present in the rest of the exhibit. It looks like a “walk of life,” the essential nature of the human condition, to keep on pushing on as best we can.
Peake is not without a sense of humor. In “Opening Night,” there is one nude figure seated among three rows of theatergoers. The woman is in a Botticelli-like pose, with hands covering pubis and breasts. Just as in a dream, no one else seems to be noticing her state of undress.
Musicians stride across a floor of piano keys in “Duets,” carrying or playing their instruments. In “Coming Out” and “Honored at the Beach,” Peake addresses contemporary social issues. The patterns of the rhythmical blue-gray tones of swirling water in the beach scene interplay gracefully with the athletic bodies of the male swimmers.
As a physician, Peake is well acquainted with the human body, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the “Outside the Box (OTB)” series. Peake collaborated with photographer David Lee Black and lighting engineer Gene Chambers to create “sculptural photography” composed of six-sided cubes that stand on one point. The cubes stand 8 feet high and display the same characters on each side in various states of motion. When one views the sophisticated construction created of aluminum and archival photographs, it is hard to imagine that it began with a photo shoot through a specially constructed glass floor in a 19th century post-and-beam Vermont barn.
In “Outside the Box: Irony,” a light-skinned man with a highly developed body kneels on a vivid blue surface with his right hand pressing on an iron. Facing him, with a golf club parallel to the iron, is an equally muscular dark-skinned woman. The figures are sculpturally magnificent, both nearly nude, and seen from six different views, as if suspended in a block of ice. The piece is both mysterious, provocative and aesthetically stunning in the same moment.
Not to be outdone by his artistic prowess, Peake is also an inventor. He has pioneered the concept of the RoFrame, a rotating frame that can be easily turned by the viewer. This is a rare invitation for the viewer to become an active agent in experiencing the art.
In “We or No?” a couple dances, viewed by a man and woman seated on chairs. The woman watches while the man seems to contemplate asking her to join him on the dance floor. The shadows, cast by each of the three points of interest, serve as a cohesive central force. In “Accompaniment,” there is no hesitation in the action. Two musicians accompany a flamenco dancer twirling a colorful red and blue scarf.
The added delight to these colorful paintings is that they can be turned on their heads, or on their sides, and amazingly, they work equally well. There is an inherent balance in the composition. The paintings themselves are often divided into geometric squares, which are further divided into smaller pixilated cubes of color, which are endlessly fascinating.
Matthew Peake has conjured up a very original exhibit that draws on his broad experiences, both in Vermont and abroad. His paintings are brimming with life. They offer us a lens into different cultures and states of mind, and are a perfect tonic for this “in between” time of year, the end of winter and the onset of mud season. Make your way to the Castleton University Bank Gallery and delight in the unexpected!