Review: by Rebecca M. Alvin
If you looked at a written description of the three artists presented in individual solo shows at Berta Walker Gallery through June 4, you’d think there were no linkages and that each show would present an entirely different aspect of fine art. And indeed, the shows are separate from one another. But from the moment you walk through the door, all three artists appear united in their use of vivid color, large, bold shapes, and evocative imagery, whether it’s Nancy Whorf’s classic Provincetown fishing village scenes, Laura Shabott’s collage and gouache nudes, or Bert Yarborough’s abstract, large-scale celebrations of organic lines and symbolic shapes.
Upon entering the gallery, Laura Shabott’s work is directly in front of you and two large Yarborough pieces hang on walls to the left. Shabott is an artist who has grown immensely in the past decade or so, always exploring new avenues of expression—whether it’s moving from painting to collage, creating larger pieces than in the past, or broadening her palette, she can always be counted upon to experiment and end up with a range of work that is authentic. The works in this show, titled Artist and Model, reflect that special relationship. At the same time, the show is not limited by that, as it includes works that are brand new as well as older pieces, demonstrating an interesting range in approaches and materials. Immediately to your left when you come in, there is a piece called After Rousseau’s The Jungle, the largest piece in the gallery at 132×72.5”. In her artist’s statement, she writes of it: “Inspired by Rousseau’s relationship to nature, a man wades through a field of giant flowers, massive legs immersed in tulips, with a crown made of sunflowers.”
Although, I was primarily impressed by the bold colors in all three exhibits, it’s worth also mentioning Shabott’s stunning charcoal drawings that demonstrate her artistic energy in its raw form, with joyful lines and curves depicting figures abstracted.
Interesting, somewhat primal shapes populate Bert Yarborough’s body of mixed media work in this show titled Signals. The colors and the forms evoke a sense of the ancient world of stone, sundials, sparsely populated villages, and the flames of a campfire. In pieces such as Vault, the colors seem almost like stains soaking into their materials. Organic shapes don’t literally represent any tangible thing, but do suggest caves, symbolic structures, and in a few cases, perhaps even parts of human anatomy. They are earthy paintings that draw us in without having a conscious reason for it. For example, Conductor, which is on the cover of the Magazine this week, is an image that takes on different meanings for me personally, the longer I look at it. At one point it appeared like an abstract figure with an authoritative arm raised in a flourish. Then I became lost in the curvy lines, conveying joy and freedom to me. And then the next time I looked it was the central shape that looked alternately cave-like and yonic. Undoubtedly, you will see entirely different things in these images, but you will not be able to turn away from them without any impression at all.
If Yarborough’s work seems to place us in a space that predates the concept of time as we know it, Whorf’s work is nostalgic, with many images representing the Provincetown of her youth, a fishing village with working men, the raging sea, beautiful landscapes, and New England vistas. Her use of the palette knife and bold choices of color unite to bring her characteristic scenes out from the frame, almost as three-dimensional paintings, you might say. These colorful chunks of paint give a visceral quality to works such as Goin’ Aground and Thar She Blows! This show, titled Love Affair with Provincetown is exactly that, albeit a Provincetown of the past.
Artists see the world as a constant flow of source material from which ideas develop and become fine-tuned, mixed with the personal experiences, thoughts, and references in their own unique minds. Although they spend a lot of time thinking and dreaming, they are anything but closed off from the constant stimulus around them. On the contrary, they perceive more than the ordinary person does. This personality, combined with skills in artistic techniques and the discipline and confidence to make it their life’s work, is what unites all artists. And it is the main message we come away with after experiencing three shows in the same gallery like the ones on display right now. The shows are each individual exhibitions, but when hung in the same space, one can’t escape the mental connections amongst them that we create in our minds. And whether intended by Berta Walker, who curates the shows, or not, all art relates to all other art in the unifying intention to reflect and express aspects of reality through the eyes of those who see it most completely.
left: Thar She Blows! (1998, oil on panel, 23.25 x 19.5”)
right: Double Exposure (1998, oil on panel, 25.50 x 20”)
The three shows by Laura Shabott, Bert Yarborough, and Nancy Whorf are on view at Berta Walker Gallery 208 Bradford St., Provincetown, through June 4, with an artist reception Friday, May 26, 5 – 7 p.m. For more information call 508.487.6411 or visit bertawalkergallery.com.