Enfolding Natural Processes at Groton
by Elizabeth Michelman
For some artists, the practice of their art form permits them to experience a meditative separation from the incursions of an urbanized, mechanized and consumption-driven society. The art of painter Deborah Barlow, photographer Kay Canavino and ceramic sculptor Ramah Commanday, whose works are on exhibit together at the Groton School’s Brodigan Gallery, enfolds natural processes into the making of their aesthetic objects and images.
Whatever form their discipline takes, they use their conscious capacities to position themselves in a brief or extended moment where unpredictable factors must come into play. Despite time-consuming preparations or extensive, after-the-fact refinements, the aesthetic charisma of their objects derives from a material, defining act — an authenticating= moment that creates an irreversible break between past and future.
At that point she must decide whether or when to continue this repetitive and ever more finely-tuned process. The emerging light-filled surfaces, glossy or matte, are textured and patterned with the idiosyncratic markings of the particles within. In the “macro” terms of physics, they exude the complex splendor of the night skies and stimulate our imaginings of the origin of matter, forms and forces in the universe. The paintings reflect ourselves, caught in a continuum between the very large and the very small.
Canavino connects to the “world below” through the veils of color she obtains — greens, pinks, yellows, flame and rust — in underwater photographs of plants growing in the fresh-water ponds of the Berkshires. She sets up elaborate systems for identifying propitious underwater environments and getting to them, designing and preparing special waterproof gear for herself and her camera with zero tolerance for error. It must be the right time of year and day, a pond without current, not sandy, too silty or too clear, just the right degree of murk. She avoids the colors of the deep or photographing under ice. Arriving when the day has resolved to a particular angle and color of light, she wades, swims or kayaks to the right spot, dips her camera underwater, and snaps the shutter — all without checking in a screen or viewfinder.