You know? You plant a seed, give it what it needs, and it grows. It flowers, and you receive the gift of fruit. That’s what happened in Rutland this past year.
During August, six emerging artists came to the art residency at 77 Art. They lived in Rutland for the month, working closely every day in studios reserved for them. They painted, sewed, sculpted and stitched. They had meals with community people who brought in banquets. They got to know Rutland, they showed Rutland their work, and it was a grand experiment.
One of their number was portrait painter Debo Mouloudji. She paints only from life, so she required some subjects to sit for her while she was in residence. Several local artists agreed to sit and share art time with her, and this is what came of that effort.
Curator Bill Ramage writes, “Nearing the end of her stay in Rutland, Debo and I began considering the possibility of curating an exhibition of her portraits alongside artworks from each of the artists she painted. These portraits lie within a tradition of artists painting artists. They are somewhere between the intensity of Chuck Close’s portrait of Lucas Samaras and the intimacy of Alice Neel’s portrait of Andy Warhol. Debo’s fluid mastery of her medium allows her to delve into the characters of the people she paints, resulting in these stunning portraits.”
Ramage, Mouloudji and the participating artists agreed to offer the exhibit at 77 Gallery, featuring her portraits alongside art works made by her subjects. Just now, visitors at 77 can see Mouloudji’s portraits accompanied by the work of the cooperating, neighborly artists: Bill Ramage, Dick Weis, Whitney Ramage, Oliver Schemm, Christine Holzschuh, Marilyn Lucey, Jamaal Clarke and Ben Leber.
Mouloudji paints with intent and intensity. “I paint from life exclusively. Painting from life is a practice in presence, for both artist and model. It forces the model to be within themselves in their truth and for me to be present with them, opening myself in such a way that I become a channel,” she explains. “The energy of our interaction becomes a part of the painting; do they like being looked at, are they open or closed? In this state I am emotionally perceptive without having conscious understanding of what I am perceiving, but the paint picks up the emotion, the expression, the life within the span of time of the pose/painting.”
Her portraits are not photographically realistic renderings of her subjects. She says her work is “meant to feel alive,” and considers her time with a subject to be a spiritual exchange. Thus, the paintings reveal the energy and potential of humans interacting. This is particularly striking because paint doesn’t move; it’s a language that holds still. Yet for all that, these paintings catch humans in a time and place. They have a “right now” quality, announcing, “This is how it was between us.”
The genius of this exhibit is that it shows Mouloudji’s take on an artist, and then it reveals other qualities of each artist subject: how they work, what they use, whether they have a sense of wonder, what’s on their minds.
For example, Richard Weis gives us abstractions to consider. He exhibits the glamour of ink and watercolor and bold marks, strong and elegant. Turn the corner and here is Ben Leben’s big owl — maybe it’s an owl. The painting has the ancient look of a pictographic South American alphabet. Where did that come from in Leben’s head? Like Mouloudji’s portrait of Leben, it’s mysterious.
Mouloudji made a large portrait of the Ramages, daughter Whitney and father Bill. She depicts the two artists with strength and composure. In turn, Whitney exhibits a film of an aluminum cube at the ocean’s edge: sometimes buffeted, sometimes floating. It’s brainy: The empty cube has exactly the volume of her own body; but the film transcends the braininess and merges into something like eternity. Bill’s installation is brainy, too. A large image created from small photographic pieces, like a puzzle — broken down and put back together. This piece continues Ramage’s quest to understand perception in space and time.
Consider coming to the gallery to see this show. See what you make of Oliver Schemm’s collection of quirky and enigmatic sculptures; of Christine Holtzschuh’s small thoughtful paintings — little jewels; of the diverse sculpture and drawings of Marilyn Lucey; and Mouloudji’s striking portrait of Jamaal Clarke, a companion to his own small portrait paintings. These and all the others make for a considerable exhibit. Mouloudji’s portraits will be on view through March 22.