“Imagination in Flight” is the title of a new gallery exhibition opening this Sunday, April 3 at the Unison Arts & Learning Center. The “flight” part of it was suggested by the series of Van Gogh-inspired paintings of crows that Matthew Zappala has been concentrating on for the past three years; but there’s “imagination” aplenty in the work of Amy Coté as well. Fanciful images of animals are the unifying visual theme of the two-person show.
“I don’t always paint animals, but there are a lot of animals in my paintings,” says Coté. To harmonize with the crows in Zappala’s most recent series, Unison’s Gallery Committee asked her to submit some of the works from her own bestiary, caught in what the venue describes as “suspended animalation.”
Coté’s critters range from an enormous virus to a tiny elephant, Frankenstein’s Cat, an armadillo, some Picassoesque bulls and many horses. There are also figures that could be people in animal masks or animals morphing into people. They’re rendered in the sort of colors that you might find inside an Easter basket: slightly brighter than pastels, cheery as spring but never quite garish, their sunny charm softening the slightly disturbing, even nightmarish juxtapositions of images that Coté captures on canvas in acrylics and oils. “Dreamlike things,” she calls them. “Consciousness, altered states: Those are some of the things I’m discussing in my art.”
Most of what she’ll be showing at Unison is relatively new work, painted in the last two years. A Boston-area native, Coté currently lives in Hurley and has a studio in the Shirt Factory in Midtown Kingston. But she has been living in the general area of New Paltz since the late 1970s, got her MFA in Painting and Drawing at SUNY New Paltz in 2013 and since then has been an art instructor there. “It’s great to be showing in a community that I’ve been part of for a long time,” she says of the Unison exhibition.
Zappala’s MFA came four decades earlier in New York City, where he later set up a studio to produce works in the Art Brut style before moving to Massachusetts to become a public school teacher and raise a family. Upon retirement, he moved to Saugerties and once again took up art full-time, starting with landscapes and then black-and-white woodcuts. “I started cutting out silhouettes of crows in plywood,” he says. “I’d been to France and seen the areas where Van Gogh painted, but I wasn’t really thinking about it at that time.”
Then, about three years ago, “The crows just came into the paintings,” he recalls. “They worked into the Expressionistic colors of the backgrounds.” He calls this most recent series After the Shot in the Wheatfield, in reference to Van Gogh’s July 1890 suicide by gunshot wound in the same fields that he had just depicted a couple of weeks earlier in one of his very last paintings, Wheat Field with Crows. The premise is that the birds have been startled by the fatal shot and taken flight in all directions. The vivid, movement-filled images give new meaning to the phrase “a murder of crows” while evoking a sense of escape from the artist’s tormented existence.
Zappala and Côte have both exhibited their works extensively throughout the Hudson Valley and surrounding areas, and bring their works together to enliven and energize the gallery space with the perceived movement of animals large and small, real and imagined. An opening reception at Unison for “Imagination in Flight: Paintings by Amy Côte and Matthew Zappala” will begin at 6 p.m. this Sunday, April 3 and run until 8 p.m. The exhibition runs through May 1, with the gallery open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and by appointment on weekends. Admission is free. The Unison Arts Center is a located at 68 Mountain Rest Road, west of the Wallkill. For more information, call (845) 255-1559 or visit www.unisonarts.org or www.facebook.com/unisonarts.