Thursday, August 19, 2010

Changes -Review in Stars by Katherine Rushworth

Central Square couple displays similar, different works at Edgewood Gallery
Published: Sunday, July 18, 2010, 5:10 AM
Katherine Rushworth

*Show Runs through September 10.

Husband and wife artists K.V. and Debe Abbott share a visual aesthetic like some couples share life. Their mixed-media works share a common energy and expressiveness that, at times, make it difficult to discern one artist's pieces from the other. While Debe's palette leans to the brighter tones, Kevin's exudes a more subdued tonality, but even that isn't a constant.

Through Sept 10, visitors to the Edgewood Gallery on Tecumseh Road can take in a 25-year survey of works by this enterprising couple. The Abbotts are the owners of Abbott's Lake Country Studio, a custom framing workshop and art studio located in the heart of Central Square, but they are also actively creating their own work, as this show demonstrates. (In addition to works by the Abbotts, there's also a small assortment of high-fired stoneware vessels by Brian Brickley on view.)

Besides color, another distinguishing feature between the couple's styles is their sense of gesture, or the weight of the marks they make. Generally, Debe's pieces are more detailed, employing smaller strokes of color while Kevin typically works in broader visual phrases. Both artists work with collage elements, although Debe has a far lighter hand in what she uses and how she applies it.

You see Kevin's use of collage most clearly in a set of works incorporating old photographs into thickly textured mixed-media surfaces. These pieces -- "Party Girls," "Brothers," "October's Children," "Sister," -- have dark, richly toned and layered surfaces into which Kevin situates an old portrait photograph. This is not a new idea and unfortunately, this execution does little to further it.

The photos sit atop these textured surfaces like postage stamps stuck to an envelope -- obvious and too deliberate in their placement. The idea would have been far more effective had Kevin prepared or treated the photos in some way. A soft white wash, a piece of finely meshed painted fabric or metal placed atop the photographs would have softened the effect of these images.

They would emerge from the piece like the faded memories he suggests they are, with a whisper instead of a shout. There are other pieces, however, which demonstrate a solid ability to move paint around a surface, create lush textures and engage a diverse palette of colors.

Debe is best known as a traditional landscape painter, but the pieces in this show are decidedly non-representational. Having said that, it's easy to find elements of the landscape in many of her works. "Desert Dawn" and "Back to Huachuca," while restrained in detail, capture the softly lilting nature of the desert's terrain.

Her palette is a rich coppery brown to which she adds collaged pieces of corrugated paper or metal, energizing the picture plane.

Texture is also a critical element in Debe's work, which she achieves through the application of thick daubs and swathes of paint, or collaging meshed fabrics or other textured materials on to her base surface. Sometimes she works back into the painted surface, as in "Festival," cutting geometric patterns into the paint revealing substrata of colors.

Seeing this show of the Abbotts' works makes me wonder if they share a common studio space. Their pieces seem to flow from one to another, with varying differences in color and texture, like slightly different inflections in two well-acquainted voices.

Katherine Rushworth, of Cazenovia, is a former director of the Michael C. Rockefeller Arts Center (State University College at Fredonia) and of the Central New York Institute for the Arts in Education. Reach her at

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