Furrows of earthy brown with specks of amber recalling stubble of harvested cornstalks lead to a white structure in Ray Brown’s “Morse’s Barn.” Brown’s “East Sandwich,” with broad swaths of green and pale yellow, evokes a sense of the landscape of that part of Cape Cod.
The green and orange palette, strong diagonal lines, and broad brushstrokes of Toby Bartles’ “Hurricane #2” connect the viewer with a sense of the forest that inspired this oil painting and others in its series. In “New Structure #3” and companion pieces, layered, textured, gray geometric forms draw the viewer into almost architectural spaces.
“Steps on a Journey — An Exhibit of Two Vermont Painters — Ray Brown and Toby Bartles” opened at T.W. Wood Gallery last week. The exhibition presents selections from two areas of interest in each of the two artists’ recent work. Brown’s oil paintings include small-format artworks closely connected to the Vermont landscape; they are accompanied by several of his large, abstract canvasses. Bartles’ artwork includes bright paintings done outdoors at the Hurricane Forest in Hartford and also large charcoal canvasses of his “New Structure” series.
“Both Ray Brown and Toby Bartles share much in common with the second-generation abstract expressionists,” said Kate Ruddle, T.W. Wood office coordinator. “Both draw influence for painterly choices from immediate surroundings such as landscape or architecture to create inner meaning.”
A painter for more than 60 years, Brown and his wife, Jody, were longtime owners of Montpelier’s Drawing Board.
“I go back and forth between realistic and abstract,” Brown said. “I paint both and don’t prefer one to the other.”
Brown’s early art career focused more on abstracts.
“When I graduated from art school in 1963, abstract expressionism was holding sway,” Brown said. “I began as an abstract painter, painted that way almost until we moved to Vermont. Then I fell in love with the Vermont landscape and began painting it.”
A major stroke over a decade ago led Brown to forge new directions. Besides retraining himself physically, he also turned to new abstract work.
“With the stroke, I lost use of my right hand and couldn’t do detail of landscape painting, so I went to bigger strokes with the left,” he explained.
In Brown’s large pieces in the show, including “Time Present” and “Time Past,” the viewer is drawn in to the proportions of broad geometric fields of color. Horizontal bands across the canvasses in this pair evoke a temporal sense.
Brown’s palette and proportions emerge in different form in his more representational work. “Morse’s Barn with Sawdust” includes similar horizontals, here evoking road, snowy field, forest and sky. At its center stands the gray barn, with an amber triangle of sawdust pouring out, or perhaps stacked to go into its open door.
“I paint because I love doing it. It is the central activity of my life as I move into my eighth decade,” Brown said.
Bartles, of White River Junction, paints in his studio, but also outdoors surrounded by his subject. These two sides of his recent work are represented.
“I lean toward things that are not fully understood pictorially. The imagery has a mysterious nature. It doesn’t quite fulfill the viewer with knowing what it is, but knowing that it is accessible and familiar,” Bartles said. “I’m drawn to intimate nature where there is a sense of wonderment.”
Bartles’ “Hurricane” series is an ongoing exploration of the eponymous town forest in Hartford, with its old-growth trees, stream, and open spaces. For these, he immerses himself in the experience of the space, lugging easel and paints into the woods where he sets up and paints quickly.
In “Hurricane #1,” flashes of blue evoke the stream passing through the forest’s depths. There is a sense of the changing season with golds and oranges accompanying muted green.
Bartles turns to invented imagery in his large format “New Structure” series. Done in charcoal on gesso-painted canvas, he uses sandpaper as an implement to scrape away layers to reveal underlying white. Bartles’ technique heightens contrasts between the clean-edged, geometric forms in his canvasses. The grays, overlapping shapes, and depth of his surfaces draw viewers into his imagined spaces.
The T.W. Wood will be presenting the world premiere of filmmaker Nat Winthrop’s “Ray Brown: Portrait of an Artist” at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21.