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August 18 - 25, 2000

[Art Reviews]

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Dream team

A husband and wife share their inspirations at Surroundings

by Leon Nigrosh

At Surroundings Gallery, 377 Main Street, Gardner, through August 31.

The first thought about the artistic connections between this husband- and-wife duo from Barre is to associate them historically with the early days of Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) and Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986). But for the Brobergs, the roles are reversed. Joanne is the photographer with more exhibition experience, and Craig is the nascent painter just beginning to test his skills.

Like Stieglitz's, Joanne's photography is straightforward, reportorial, and humanistic. She enjoys producing images of natural surroundings and of people and is at home with color or with black and white -- as the selection of 18 images on display strongly suggests. For example, each of the three small black and whites taken on Block Island tells a little story. The first, Reminiscing, shows the back of a rotund older woman as she gazes seaward, arms akimbo. Perhaps she is thinking of days gone by when she was an eye-catching bathing beauty? Two companion pictures, Blissful Oblivion and Perfect Day, give us a glimpse into a few moments of a young boy's life. In the former, he is alone and tentatively testing the splashing shoreline. In the second, he is happily sitting on his dad's shoulders and is now obviously the master of all he surveys.

In a sampler of her travels, Joanne offers us two colorful portraits of indigenous Andeans. A man, in his traditional garb, unpretentiously plays a pan flute for us. The image of a young woman involved in weaving is enigmatically titled My Mona Lisa. Other pictures feature newly hatched chicks, snow-covered rock walls, and wild flowers. Demonstrating both her technical capability and her ability to capture a moment, Joanne's signature piece, Blue, offers us a bed of ocean rocks and a very recently deceased fish.

Craig began his artistic career as an architecture student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, later transferring to RISD, and now finally at UMass Amherst as a senior painting major. As gallery owner Chuck Heidorn puts it, "Craig lost interest in the nuts and the bolts and became more interested in the aesthetics." In fact, three of Craig's earlier paintings of trees seem weak and out of place in this, his first exhibit. His strongest works are the half-dozen architecturally oriented acrylic-on-canvas compositions.

With the exception of an earlier, tentative shaded canvas Hill of Cubes, all the images are produced within the same consistent palette of flat ochres, umbers, and siennas with bright yellow windows and dark green and blue shadow forms. The compositions have overlapping planes tilted at crazy angles, recalling the eerie movie sets of the 1919 German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

For those of you seeking a less esoteric point of reference, Craig's paintings can be more easily associated with those produced by one of his major inspirations, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965). Sheeler's "precisionism" espoused a type of American painting as close to Cubism as one could get without becoming abstract. There were to be no expressive brushstrokes and nothing live or organic -- no trees or people. The paintings celebrated the purposeful and ordered complexity of modern American industrial architecture. Craig has chosen local back alleys as his point of departure -- there's one that's easily recognized as the narrow spaces within Superior Friction Co. Back Alley II places us at ground level, looking up toward the looming brick walls dotted with arched, opaque windows. Telephone poles, wires, and conical tin chimney caps act as recurring elements that at first appear to add to the cacophony, but they serve to punctuate the rhythmic patterns or to aim us back toward the major compositional components.

The most successful and dramatic of Craig's paintings is Stack. Just as in his other compositions, building façades lurch precariously at one another. But central to this particular work is a tall, leaning cylinder jutting skyward. Still retaining his flatness of paint and plane, Craig interjects this element and gives it command over the entire space. We can feel the energy that once coursed through these now empty symbols of early New England industry.

The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call (978) 630-2340.


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