New Work by Joan Green and Bobby Brown at the Multicultural Arts Center
by James Foritano
Recent art by life partners and fellow travelers Joan Green and Bobby Brown is now showing at Cambridge’s Multi-Cultural Arts Center, 41 Second St., East Cambridge, located just off Cambridge Street and a few steps from the Lechmere T station. The show continues through Wednesday, September 7. Joan and Bobby have been visiting the south coast of Jamaica together since 1984, bringing their impressions of its landscape and peoples back to their Cambridge studios where they freely, vigorously and playfully blend those impressions with their individual skills, temperaments and pursuits.
Green has drawn and colored since she could first hold a crayon as a child, and has also long shared her skills as a teacher and practitioner of dance with audiences and students of all ages. Life-long practice has kept these skills fresh and flexible enough to both channel their first impulses as well as reach forward toward more mature complexities.
Her “Full Moon” is filled with tropical vegetation and sports and sprouts vibrant colors of green, blue, orange and yellow against darker shadows under a full moon. The light the tiny moon casts from the top edge of the picture plane illuminates physically, as well as spiritually, a drama of male and female. A fecund tropical plant life both roots down and reaches up as if to support a male and a female figure, lithe and curvilinear as dancers, reaching up and out towards each other as if buoyed on a swooping current of energy.
Her left arm, extended to an impossible thinness, reaches out towards his. Her left leg and foot extend into the dark energy of a moon-shadow and thread just behind an upright plant as if feeding on its sappy energy while shining X-ray bright with the same tincture of orange that floats the couple towards each other and, hopefully, into contact.
That same close observation of the physical: plant, animal, human animal — as well as acute readings of the emotional and spiritual temperatures between them extends from this painting to animate the more than two dozen other works in oil and mixed media that Green brings to this exhibition from travels abroad and studio days spent in Cambridge.
From Green’s exuberant landscapes and poignant figure dramas to Brown’s sculptured masks seems a distance of both inches — and miles. Crafted from the most heterogeneous materials of metal, plant and animal, they nevertheless cohere as engaging and surprising, if not startling, personalities peering at you from around corners and columns. As artificial as they may seem, taken in parts, the viewer quickly makes a happy acquaintance with their lively, conspiring expressions.
Brown’s masks channel a lifetime of being before and with teachers and children. They proclaim that you can make anything from anything as he summons flesh and bone, seemingly without effort, from such unlikely materials. On the other hand, as eloquent as they are, they speak most directly to the viewer’s gaze, as loud, quirky, sly, questioning but silent personalities. In addition to his 15 masks, Brown has seven two-dimensional works in mixed media.
Take a friend, or better, friends, along with you to the closing days of this rich, varied exhibit of sculpture, drawing and painting. The analytical types can examine and explain how the artists “did it” while those more holistically inclined can dwell in the myth and mystery of intriguing personas, engaging landscapes summoned to life — who knows how — yet so vibrantly available!
(“In Close Proximity: New Work by Joan Green and Bobby Brown” continues through September 7 at the Multicultural Arts Center, 41 Second St., East Cambridge, Mass. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information, call (617) 577-1400.)