Painting Women and Men: New American Realism at Wood Gallery

The last time I saw painter August Burns was when her official portrait of former governor Peter Shumlin was unveiled at the Vermont State House last January. Burns now has an exhibition, along with artist Heidi Broner, at the T. W. Wood Gallery at 46 Barre Street in downtown Montpelier. New American Realism will continue through December 23.

Burns's Roller Derby Queen, oil on linen, is a multiple award-winner .

Burns is a skilled portraitist, and in this exhibition, the works are, with rare exception, paintings of women. She captures many of her subjects close up and looking straight ahead, so that the viewer's eyes meet those of the women on canvas.  Burns works from live models; some works are quickly done (4 hours) while others require a longer time and repeat sittings. The paintings are colorful, beautiful; the viewer is drawn to the subjects' eyes, hair, and finely rendered facial expressions. In a recent artist's talk, Burns revealed some of her techniques, explaining how she layers paint and uses other materials, like copper foil and wax, to add depth and texture to her work.

Crystal Stokes, model for the portrait Kind of Blue, dropped by the Wood Gallery. She is also an artist.

Burns also spoke about her concerns about the lack of support for and attention to women artists, offering some statistics that haven't changed much since the famous poster in the ad campaign of the Guerrilla Girls in the 1990s, in which they asked: "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?" (More recently and closer to home, an advertising truck rolled through the city asking the same question about Boston museums in 2012.) Burns stated that still, only 5% of works in museums in the United States and Europe are by women. Women artists earn 81 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.

Stone Wall by Heidi Broner

Heidi Broner provides balance to this exhibition. Her paintings are mostly of male subjects at work, faces turned away from the viewer, bodies concentrated on the task at hand. Broner walks, taking thousands of photographs of people working, crossing the street, bicycling. She loves "capturing the gesture" in mid-point rather than in completion. Movement is not “just a goal, but a journey.” In this exhibition, she has zeroed in on those whose daily work is in public view--a builder of a sidewalk, a roofer, a brickworker, a dresser of mannequins.

Broner’s Wet Cement

The T. W. Wood Gallery has existed for over 100 years, most recently at its present location in a refurbished school and convent, as part of Montpelier's Center for Arts and Learning. Admission to the permanent gallery and to the Burns and Broner exhibition is free.

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(Featured photo, above, is Frida in Red by August Burns.)


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