Luminous hues of Liz Hawkes deNiord’s abstract canvases glow at Spotlight Gallery. Richard Heller’s compositions offer layers of depth with underlying structures and shapes to be discovered. Rachel Portesi’s elegant and haunting wet plate collodion prints transcend time. The three artists’ selections invite viewers to explore underlying realities of their artwork.

Outdoors, just a few steps away, a trio of giant yellow spoons dangle from overhead branches almost to the ground, as two granite hands meet in a tender gesture, and six other newly installed three dimensional pieces welcome viewers to the Vermont Arts Council’s Sculpture Garden.

Autumn is off to an exciting start at the Vermont Arts Council with two new exhibitions. “Conduits: A Show with Three Artists” opened in the Arts Council’s Spotlight Gallery with work by two painters, Liz Hawkes deNiord of Westminster West, and Richard Heller of Brattleboro, and photography by Rachel Portesi of Saxton’s River. The show continues to Oct. 31.

“The State of Sculpture … an Overview of Vermont Sculptors,” a new two-year exhibition, opened in the Sculpture Garden. Curated by Matthew Perry, visual artist and executive director of the Vermont Arts Exchange, and Joe Chirchirillo, sculptor and curator of the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, the show includes work in media including wood, stone and steel. The seven artists are: Ria Blaas, Joe Chirchirillo, Clark Derbes, Peter Lundberg, Chris Miller, Andrew Hamilton Reiss and Gregory Smith

In the Spotlight Gallery, the Arts Council presents six two-month shows each year. For “Conduits,” deNiord reached out to the other two southern Vermont artists.

“I thought of artists whose work was different enough from mine but who I knew were always at the experimental and searching end of their art,” said deNiord, noting, “ I respect both of these artists’ work and although they did not know each other, but knew of each other, they accepted the challenge, and I put the electric title of ‘Conduits’ on with a nod to how we in the largest sense, are all connected.”

In her abstract colorist paintings, deNiord builds up and mines through layers of paint. Her process brings out luminous qualities of the colors. Along the way, she discovers and reveals shapes, often rectangles, that emerge. Her paintings have less a quality of surface than of depth, inviting viewers into them.

deNiord’s triptych “Parmita II,” with its three square panels, ranges from intense cerulean blues to exuberant golds and oranges.

“‘Paramita II,’ without getting too technical, has one translation as ‘crossing to the other side,’ and refers to choosing to think and live a certain way that does no harm. What a tall order, right? I like challenges and loved painting this second in the ‘Paramita’ series as a way of exploring that concept. Like many of my paintings, where it began and where it ended were unplanned and a complete surprise,” said deNiord.

“I started with only one panel, the center of the wooden panels, and felt there was another painting waiting to be done so I added a second panel, rotated the positions, kept painting and then added a third panel. Each is different in color and title (‘Of the Body,’ ‘Of the Mind,’ ‘Of the Heart’) but as a triptych they are fully connected,” she explained.

Heller’s acrylics, each one a 14-by-14-inch square, all untitled, also draw viewers into their multiple layers. Presented in sets at Spotlight, Heller’s paintings are intriguing in their groups and individually. In the sets, viewed from a distances, viewers see his color and texture, and, in some, his different approaches to certain elements, including tracery of Gothic rose windows.

Up close, Heller’s multiple layers come into focus, tracery, for example, or other architectural or geometric shapes. The geometry of his compositions and their square panels, layers of color and texture, offer discoveries in each piece.

Portesi’s photographs seem to defy time — her technique recalling early photography, but her subjects current and elusive. Polaroid photography had been a preferred medium for Portesi in the late 1990s, with the immediacy, and surprises of each one-of-a-kind image. With the decline of Polaroid, as Portesi explored other media, she was drawn to wet plate collodion photography, a process that dates to the 1850s.

“Somehow the much slower but still instant process of wet plate photography holds the same magic. When the exposed and developed plate sits in the fixer, a negative image appears, then slowly shifts, in a cloud that is kind of blue, into a positive and the created image magically appears,” Portesi notes on her website.

Among Portesi’s works at Spotlight are several from her “Hair” series. Thick long hair of Portesi’s model is braided and twisted extending out from her head. Flowers, foliage and twigs are intertwined and reach out. They radiate like an aureola or halo, seeming to extend her energy as well as her physical being.

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