Intriguing work at Main Street Arts

Bradley Butler, acrylic on panel
Life Is (And Isn’t) Meaningful, acrylic on panel, Bradley Butler

Over the past few years, Bradley Butler has been doing a marvelous job in Clifton Springs of creating some excitement about visual art in this region. Playing hard to get to may be part of his gallery’s cachet: it requires a bit of time to get there from either Syracuse or Rochester. It’s almost always worth the drive. This new Small Works exhibition offers work from 103 artists, residing in 26 states, chosen by Rick Pirozzolo, executive director and curator at the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, NY., with great work from many regional artists, along with a sampling of representative work from across the U.S. 

Bill Stephens and Bill Santelli both offered first rate paintings: Santelli’s Awake in the Night was a departure from much of his usual style, a small black monolithic canvas bisected by an aperture through which a new light seemed to break through. With Into the Deep Woods, Bill Stephens has laid down some of the most effective color I’ve ever seen in any of his precise, surrealistic improvisations of natural forms and human figures. The warm tones hover in the background while the vegetation in the foreground of his dreamlike copse were done in cool blues and greens—the inversion of warmth at a distance and chill tones up close made the background seem to advance as the foreground receded. The effect was to create a unified sense of potential energy, everything poised, ready to change places as soon as one looked away. 

The masterful and restrained Self Portrait, by John Van Houten, of Buffalo, winner of Best in Show, is actually Tonalist in spirit, so dimly lit as to require some moving around to see through the glossy shine of the surface in order to simply make out the face. It evokes long-lost virtues, a quiet and humble sort of patience and forbearance and modesty, and the image served almost as an emblem of core values seemingly abandoned in our shrill and combative social media culture. It’s gratifying to see a painting without a trace of modernist or post-modern pretensions getting top honors while holding its own as entirely and justifiably contemporary. Nearby, Rubicite Earring, by Zach Koch, was a simple but eerie evocation of a weirdly serene but ominous rapture: a face in which the features seemed to be masterfully drawn and then blurred, except for the nose and the gumdrop stone affixed to the beautiful subject’s earlobe. The bright

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