Something old, something new in library exhibit

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Roberta Gross’ new exhibition at the West Tisbury library and corresponding online exhibit encompass a plethora of acrylic, pastels, collagraphs, monoprints, and screenprints, creating a kaleidoscopic experience. Gross is a colorist through and through.

Walking into the library gallery, which is open to the public again, is a joyful adventure in color. Gross constructs her compositions through the building and juxtaposition of bold, abstract color shapes that allude to recognizable figures, landscapes, or florals and vessels.

The striking black outlines defining the opaque, geometric, colorful shapes in her narrative figures series sit snugly next to one another like a jigsaw puzzle, creating a sweep of movement that animates her forms. Gross begins each composition looking at a live model. But they soon take on a life of their own. Her titles, such as “Ancestors,” “Inner Strength,” “Sunday Best,” and the like, come to Gross after completing the works. At the same time, she wants the viewer to come to her or his own titles stemming from their personal experience with the pieces. Gross says, “Everybody comes in and sees what they see in it. The whole aspect I call the narrative figure.”

Gross’ palette comes from her treasure trove of soft pastels. Speaking about the medium, she says about opening up the box chock-full of them, “It’s like candy. It’s such a treat. They are these luscious colors that you don’t get with paints. With oil and acrylics, you have to mix all these different colors. There is an immediacy to seeing the colors with pastels.”

Her oil-based, one-of-a-kind monotype prints are completely abstract, filled with gestural lines, textures, and shapes that have an immediacy of spontaneity. While her palette here is limited to earth-tone reds, blues, black, and white, color still plays a pivotal role in creating the compositions. On the other hand, we return to brilliant colors in Gross’ acrylic, heavily patterned screenprints.

Her acrylic garden landscapes series evoke lush water vistas. Here vertical, thin, black linear gestures dance across canvases filled with aquas and other blues, as well as orange, red, pinks, and bright green splatters that have their origin when Featherstone Center for the Arts invited a group of artists to do an exhibition. “I was working outside because I could drip and splatter and pour. So all the rocks around my studio are very colorful.” 

Gross began her soft pastel vessels and tendrils series during the pandemic. While they share the same bold use of hues, she says, “I was exploring the use of space. I push the flowers and tendrils to the side so there’s a large amount of space, which influences what you’re looking at. The other genesis for them is that I yearly participate in the ‘Blooming Art Show’ at the Mill in West Tisbury. They are very dramatic even though they are not huge.”

The accompanying vessel pieces create complex compositions of undulating shapes that seem to pulse against one another with a life of their own, creating an animated surface. “You are really able to concentrate on the media if you simplify the subject matter,” Gross explains. She continues, “I’m maintaining a lot of control on one aspect so I can play with the textures, the feel of the material. How the pastels go on and feel next to each other.”

During the winter months, Gross lives in Philadelphia, where she serves as the exhibition chair for the Plastic Club. This organization, now a coed art society, was founded in the late 19th century so that women artists could enjoy professional opportunities, development through workshops, and the company of other working artists, since Victorian customs excluded women from professional artist organizations and opportunities.

On the Island, Gross’ color feast at the library is up through the end of July.

“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something Blue” at the West Tisbury library runs through the end of July, and is online through the library’s virtual gallery at wtlibraryvirtualgallery.org/featured-artist-new.