Galleries : Two Artists Capture Light and Form
Connecticut artist Kari Lønning's baskets at Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven demonstrate how far from its utilitarian origins the world's oldest handcraft has come. Paired with the equally remarkable landscape paintings of Vineyard artist Leslie Baker, they make for one of the more exciting exhibits on the Vineyard this summer.
Ms. Lønning earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Syracuse University, and in 2002, authored "The Art of Basketry." Her work is in the collections at the White House, the Smithsonian, Yale University, and the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts.
So it is interesting to hear her state: "I'm not a basket lover. I don't collect them." She explains it began years ago when she was given a supply of reeds intended for her ex-husband, who did seat caning. Ms. Lønning took a four-day class, and taught herself how to make baskets. "It all clicked for me," she says.
Aspiring at one time to be an architect, she says she loves building objects and working with angles and volumes. For her, basketry is a medium where she can combine the symmetry of throwing pots with fabric textures and colors and her weaving skills to create the forms that have led to a basketry career that has supported her for 35 years.
Ms. Lønning hand-dyes the colors worked into abstract patterns, a process that takes half a day just for the rinsing stage of each color.
"I adore the process," she says. Some baskets she designs ahead of time, while others are "light-bulb experiences" that happen while she's working on them. Each is a one-of-a-kind work of art.
The basketry on display at Shaw Cramer Gallery ranges from "Red Doughnut" with its double-wall construction to the "Little Hairy Pots" series, all of which represent innovative techniques that are the artist's signature.
"Lights on Water" mixes subtle shades of blues, greens, and lime with a natural reed trim in a shape reminiscent of Grecian urns. A variegated black with blocks of red, yellow, orange and lime rings creates the palette of "Emerging Chaos," in a challenging oval shape. All of Ms. Lønning's baskets are free-shaped by hand without using molds.
"Blue Seagrass Feathers" incorporates natural seagrass twists in a pattern that alternates with gray-blue reeds in a natural background. A blue band on the top and base with natural edgings completes the piece.
A basket can take Ms. Lønning from two days to a week and a half to complete. The complexity of design, not size, determines the amount of time.
Once the decision was made for a full-scale exhibit at the Shaw Cramer Gallery, Ms. Lønning told gallery owner Nancy Cramer, a tapestry maker she has known for years, that she would like to show with Ms. Baker. "I love her approach to color. I love to have her work next to mine," she says.
Artist Leslie Baker explains that for the year's work in "This Particular Time," her focus has been the quality of light on form and its capacity to reveal, distort, dissolve, and diffuse. An author-illustrator of 14 children's books as well as an accomplished watercolorist, Ms. Baker has produced a series of oil paintings that explode in unusual, even risky palettes with a subtlety of depth and dimension that reward close viewing.
In "Light Lost in the Trees," the compositional ground line is angled to reinforce the length of light hitting purple-trunked trees. A complex mix of purple, yellow and brown emerges in the foreground grass. "Lemon Field" works its effects through a crispness of color - a grayish blue sky, yellow field and echoes of yellow in nearby trees.
"Calm Surface of the Afternoon" mixes a massive peach sky and marsh water with light green-topped tree foliage that is yellow below. But the message is not just powerful expanses of color. This landscape has an unusual depth and richness for such a large painting. The foliage brushwork overlaps the compositional mid-line like mist, while shadows in the water have green highlights that lift the color up, also like mist.
The vibrant rose-purple sky and pond water of "A Place Apart" create a tension with the tremendous depth Ms. Baker has achieved in the darker, recessive forms of flat marshes, rounded trees and barely suggested rocks. "Beetle Bungs" takes as its focal point a copse of eight trees with crimson foliage reaching almost to the ground. A hint of reddened cloud cover affects the whole sky. The painter endowed the forms of the black tree trunks with the grace and liveliness of dancers.
The planes of the building and rooflines in "Blue Barn" join in striking, somewhat awkward angles, while the black, negative space of the open barn door occupies this less successful painting's center. The palette in "Slipping Away" is less subtle than most of the other work on display. But in every case, the angle and direction of light provide a compass that points the way into the heart of the landscape.
Shaw Cramer Gallery, 56 Main St., presents the work of Leslie Baker's oils on canvas, "This Particular Time," and Kari Lønning's, contemporary baskets. Jazz piano with Abbie Dreyer. Through Wednesday, July 9. 508-696-7323.