Long shadows of a dog and its person, legs stretched by the low angle of light reveal a pair linked by more than the leash between them. There is softness and depth to the figures. Their forms emerge in thousands of short stitches akin to brush-strokes — but each one a thread, hand-sewn on a field of hand-dyed silk, in Elizabeth Fram’s “Shadow Walk.”
In Frank Woods’ oil painting “Roadscape I-89 – No. 4,” in planes of color, the curve of black highway, rhythmic gray guardrail, and green shadowed hillside draw the viewer in to the landscape and journey ahead. A wedge of light-blue sky, dappled with white, peeks out above.
Hundreds of cotton threads hang from high overhead, almost to the floor, in Elizabeth Billings’ “Nimbus.” The array of precisely spaced blue and white lines, progressing from light to dark, with a contrasting band at about eye level with a reverse progression, evokes sky and clouds. Like clouds, “Nimbus’” perceived patterns change as the viewer moves, gazing into its airy space.
Delightful layers of connections emerge between these three artworks, displayed together — shadow and sky, contemplations of two and three dimensions, the artists’ fluency with different types of lines, and much more.
“The Dialects of Line, Color and Texture: A Visual Discussion with Elizabeth Billings, Frank Woods and Elizabeth Fram,” an exhibition of two and three-dimensional art by these three Vermont artists, opened this week at the Gallery at the Highland Center for the Arts. The show includes more than a dozen works by Fram and Woods each, and two installations by Billings.
“Elizabeth Billings, Frank Woods and Elizabeth Fram express the same language differently. Their shared vocabulary speaks of line, color and texture, but they converse with different materials and processes,” explained Maureen O’Connor Burgess, the Gallery’s curator.
The artists’ differences, Burgess noted, “lie in their tools and materials. It is not important, however, if an artist holds a pencil or a paintbrush, a threaded needle, or a bow saw and wire cutter. The important thing is how the hand holding that tool responds to what is seen. Each of these artists express and shape thought by giving it form — first in drawing and eventually with paint, dye, silk thread, or saplings. Here we find their similarities and celebrate their skill.”
Offering viewers insight into the three artists’ approaches, the exhibition includes a showcase with sketchbooks and explanation of some of their processes.
Fram, of Waterbury, brings layers of labor-intensive techniques to her textile artworks.
“I apply the formal principles of line, form and color in tandem with the textural qualities inherent in textiles. I explore image and surface, separately and together, celebrating each for the qualities it contributes to elevate the other,” she notes in her artist’s statement.
Fram’s works are often built on an initial layer of raw silk, embellished through Shibori techniques of shaping and dying the cloth. One pattern resembles wood grain. In Fram’s exquisite and witty “Cut-Off,” stitched scissors appear to have cut through the surrounding field of this “mokume.” In “Caught Red Handed,” a fabulous stitched red octopus with twirling tentacles looks out from a patterned sea.
Thread is central to Billings’ installations. In “Thread Drawings,” stitched lines of silk thread swirl across sheets of vellum that hang from the ceiling. With any breeze, the flock of sheets sways and turns.
In “Nimbus” her hundreds of cotton threads hang from maple saplings, installed near the ceiling. Discs of maple weight them down nearly at the floor. Each long thread is as an individual line — length and width but without depth. At strategically placed knots, pairs of meticulously measured tails almost flutter, perhaps suggesting birds’ wings.
“My art work extends the long tradition of textiles and emanates out of the rhythms at the very essence of the process of weaving. At the core of these rhythms is a deep connection to nature. The strength of my work lies in making visible that connection, an essential consciousness in the world today,” said Billings, who lives in Tunbridge.
Woods, of Montpelier, noted that, “For me, drawing is the foundation upon which all of this rests.”
Woods’ sketchbooks offer a glimpse of his process, planning out the geometry and fields of color in notes and tiny drawings that precede his paintings.
Several paintings from Woods’ “Roadscapes” series, as well as a few from his kimono series and recent abstracts, are in the show. “Roadscapes” takes viewers to Interstate 89, not in a scenic way with familiar landmarks, but with a beckoning quality, its bold geometry inviting the viewer to look ahead.
“Frank’s further mark-making — the Xs, the boxes, the last-minute brushstrokes of new color, are very much his signature and speak to his love of line and drawing,” Burgess said.