On view through December 31, the Winter Solstice Show up at Ai Earthling Gallery – an odd bird of a visual arts gallery that’s part of Ye Olde Hippie Shoppe on Tinker Street in Woodstock – is a gem of a showcase for some of the best that’s happening in Hudson Valley arts of late. Quietly pulling together six local artists working in idiosyncratic styles, exhibited in about as unostentatious a way as possible, it’s on view weekends through the month, with a special evening reception coinciding with the Woodstock Open House holiday celebration this Friday night, December 7.
Who are the six and what are they showing? We’ve written about Will Lytle, the red-bearded former video artist who rose to attention in recent years making personalized books of drawings, in limited editions, that he hid around his hometown for collectors to find. He’s recently back from a cross-country trip by freight train captured in a new comic book, I Rode the Behemoth, whose stills are on view, along with some larger illustrative self-portraits and other pen-and-ink works. The work plays on dreams both personal and collective, yet grounds everything in homey feelings and a mature man’s recognition of the beauty and utter necessity of childlike dreams. Lytle will also create $1 portraits for attendees at Friday’s opening.
We’ve also covered much of Tasha Depp’s classic portraits and finely wrought landscapes and still-lives executed on trash, allowing her own well-practiced art to take on added life by being placed within – and allowed to comment on – the detritus of everyday life, including its innate yet terrible beauty. Amongst the new steps taken with her work on view here are a painting, Fire on Car Part, and a subtle nude drawn on a page from a Berkshire Hathaway financial report.
First known locally for his huge allegorical paintings of the cardinal sins and virtues, but best-recognized for his faux historical markers popping up throughout the Hudson Valley, Norm Magnusson demonstrates his more eclectic and boundlessly energetic side with a series of photographs titled Decorating Nature, wherein he has decoratively painted on leaves, rocks, pinecones and other natural elements and then captured them in the same natural settings in which he first found them. The results are playful, occasionally political and deeply thoughtful in their play on the innate ideas of human artistry’s role as a recognizer and commentator on the sublime beauty inherent in all that surrounds us.
Margaret Owen, part of the group that founded and keeps Phoenicia’s Arts Upstairs running, is represented here by a series of subtly fantastic mountain landscapes on silk, which combine the graphic (via outlined shapes) with the interpretive (bright fabric paints and surrounding frames).
Julie Chase, half of the pair who runs Catskill’s Open Studio – known for its plays on local history over the years, as well as a well-respected series of public art pieces in their own home – is showing her found photographs, embellished with exacting embroidery work, making masks and headdresses on the history-redolent imagery that she uses as a base. Each piece feels precious in its size and craftsmanship, and yet much larger – almost epic – because of its ability to straddle simultaneous worlds of meaning and effect.
Finally, Beth Humphrey (the daughter of noted painter Ralph Humphrey), who runs the Woodstock Artists’ Association & Museum’s education programs, shows a series of flat casein paintings depicting the subtleties of plants grown in relation to light, via both monochrome and colorful means. The pieces appear abstract on first glance, until one spends time with them, realizing the careful observation and skillful use of artistic media to mimic nature apparent in each. “My work starts with botany, the study of plant life,” is how she explains what she is doing and exploring. “I am interested in the form and structure of flora, the relationships between plants, how things grow towards the light or react to the dark.”
Ai Earthling is a project of Aileen McNally, and has been showing some great punk and street photographers and other denizens of New York’s edgier art scenes since its opening earlier this year. This show firmly establishes the space as a key Hudson Valley presence, aware of and conversant in the best that our region is now offering: all works that engage, in the most personal of ways, with the nature for which we move up here, while simultaneously acknowledging history’s pull, as well as all that it takes to play out one’s human drama in today’s over-busy setting.
Winter Solstice Show, opening Friday, December 7, 5-8 p.m., Gallery hours Saturdays/Sundays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Ai Earthling Gallery, Ye Olde Hippie Shoppe of Woodstock, 69 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-2650.