By An Uong
Concord, MA — In the town of Concord, Mass., which feels a long ways away from the hurried noise of nearby Boston, the Concord Arts Association rests under overarching green canopies, bustling in its own way. Its outer facade is that of a classic colonial home, but the entrance gives way to humble rooms. The art that currently hangs on the walls has been chosen and curated by mentor, painter and long-time local resident George Nick.
Attending the opening night of “Sight Specific: A Selection of American Perceptual Paintings,” it proved difficult to walk in any one direction without almost having a dangerous collision with another attendee, or pausing to wait for a crowd to meander onward. The second floor, though more spacious, had a similar hectic sensation. Men and women, both young and old, nonchalantly carry their drinks around, wrists angled toward the art, pausing here and there to admire the paintings that populate the house. The works are each different, and varied in size, but all are representational of a tangible world, both realistically and emotionally.
Nick, being aware of the influential art giants that seem to dominate the creative world, aimed to put together a show that would highlight perceptual paintings that span across four generations, a total of 75 paintings from over 56 artists. The show draws from artists who are established as painters, as well as artists who have recently graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston University, or the Art Institute of Boston.
The instinct to capture what is seen has been an enduring aspect of the art-making process. “People will always want to paint what they see, despite changes and trends,” director Kate James said. In this way, paintings speak volumes about the life of objects in an environment that morphs every day. K. Min’s “New York Story,” 2013, hangs along one of Concord Art’s two staircases. People heading up or down might glance at the painting, but more than a moment is needed to fully observe its unflinchingly serene aura.
The painting’s simple palette and composition challenge the mind to fill the stillness with one’s own thoughts. The scene is a Spartan bed with spotless white sheets, set horizontally against an equally empty wall that is almost entirely covered with a bluish gray save for one long, bright orange strip of light, where the sunset slips into the room. Often we are served with breathtaking landscapes of such moments, but rarely are we asked to imagine these times of the day from the perspective of a quiet, empty room. Moreover, the desolation is quite opposite to the expected chaos and liveliness of New York City. In such a busy, people-filled city, it is not surprising to find oneself at a loss for what to do when confronted with solitude amidst honking horns and click-clacking shoes.
At its crux, perceptual art comes from the observation of reality. This phenomenon is transferred to canvas both impressionistically and photorealistically. Young painters are taught the fundamentals of looking for negative space, but over time, the way in which positive space is conveyed becomes charged with an artist’s esoteric style. “Sight Specific” reaches across all visual styles to lull us with peaceful pastoral evenings in one corner only to jolt our minds with the grit of urbanity in another.
The less contemporary though just as affective “White Winter,” 1915, by Edwin Dickinson, hangs by the welcome desk. From afar, the painting appears to be covered in white, but upon closer observation, the soft outlines of homes and trees begin to fade into being. The piece has movement within itself, and takes its time to reveal the scene to its viewers. Though it is an older piece, it offers us simplicity in the most complex of ways.
“Variety is not paid attention to,” Nick shared in regards to the difficulties of being an artist in a world dominated by decision-makers. The focus is sometimes set on certain styles or individuals, when in reality, as he expressed, “Other people are doing things just as legitimate.”
The show gives a stage to artists who have been and are continuing the tradition of painting what is seen before us. In doing so they confront us with the concept that the contemplation of physical places and objects leads to a more complex understanding of such moments in reality. No matter where the tides shift, humans are still transfixed by the representation of the tangible, whatever be the form.
(“Sight Specific: A Selection of American Perceptual Paintings” continues through August 13 at the Concord Art Association, 37 Lexington Road, Concord, Mass. For more information, call (978) 369-2578.)