Drawing on our Colonial history

Artists' group uses Old North Bridge for inspiration

Ilana Manolson's 'Looking to Bridge the Rhythm of Time' Ilana Manolson's "Looking to Bridge the Rhythm of Time" is at Concord Art Association. (Erik Hansen)
Email|Print| Text size + By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / November 15, 2007

The Old North Bridge in Concord, site of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the first battle of the American Revolution, isn't so old. The bridge there has been destroyed by storms and floods several times and rebuilt. The current version, in what's now Minute Man National Historic Park, was erected in 1956.

Artist and curator Ilana Manolson invited several artists to respond to the bridge, and the affectionate and sharp results can be seen at the Concord Art Association.

"From a Fixed Point: New Art From the Old North Bridge" is essentially a landscape show. It's a joy to see so many approaches to the same subject, from Elizabeth Awalt's intimate ink and watercolor evocations of plant life, such as the dusky, blushing "Turnip Root," to David Prifti's antique-looking tintype photos of roots and rocks.

Manolson's own drawing assemblage, "Looking to Bridge the Rhythm of Time," features several ink-on-vellum scrolls dropping from a wooden arc that echoes the bridge's structure. The voluptuous drawings evoke the fluid life of water, its play with light, its vanishing into mist; the title suggests that water's mercuric mutability might be a metaphor for the passage of time.

Monika Andersson takes a similar approach with her shimmering digital collages, which utilize photographic images of the bridge's reflection in the water below. Her "Old North Bridge Reflections" shows the mirror of sky, clouds, and bridge rippling over the textured water and the sandy riverbed. William Ciccariello offers spare, moody paintings of the old foundations of long-gone houses in the fields near the bridge, rocks rising up from the grass like ancient runes.

History runs through these works, but there are few direct references. Here and there, Daniel Chester French's Minute Man statue appears. Kathleen Volp has made several tongue-in-cheek commemorative porcelain plates. One, "Plate #4, Of Nature, History and Bridge" evokes floods, with crisp, arcing waves carrying a cow, fish, and the broken bridge. It's odd that with this juicy subject, there's no conceptual art about the shot heard 'round the world - what it meant then to be an American, and what it means today.

As a landscape show, however, this is rich, opening up the habitat of the Old North Bridge from so many vantage points and with so many sensibilities, you want to go there and find your own.

Test patterns
Nancy Blum's botanical drawings at Judy Ann Goldman Fine Art have so much visual verve that it's easy to get caught up in the bold tones and gestures and lose sight of the graceful nuances. The artist draws from Islamic patterns, German botanical drawings, Chinese scroll paintings, and the 19th-century design work of William Morris, among other sources.

"Dangle" features gold-pencil spirograph patterns in the background and gold ripples set off by the petals in a patterned bed of graphite flowers. More cartoonish Asian plum trees barge into and over the scene in black ink on white. Then Blum tops everything off with enormous, wide-open sensual blossoms in colorful gouaches that command attention. The intricately layered buildup of images adds up to a giddy romp through a spectacle of a garden.

Bill Durgin's cheeky photographs, also at Judy Ann Goldman, cleverly riff on fashion photography's fetishistic ways. Durgin's backdrops are blank; he has his models don designer outfits, but not as anyone else would wear them.

In "Versace," the model huddles backward in a lime-green zippered jacket, her head tucked under the collar. The jacket's lapels spread to reveal her bare back. Durgin uses fashion to make sculptures out of his models, while still managing to show off the couture. It's odd and irreverent; Vogue might snap him up to shoot a fashion spread.

A mix of meanings
Yu-Wen Wu's moody, gorgeous mixed-media paintings at Miller Block use images of water, landscape, constellations, and diagrams in ways that reflect different approaches to grappling with life's mysteries. "From the Book of Dreams" features photo transfers and drawings of water on graph paper across a 6-foot-long panel. The drawing echoes and tries to make sense of the photo. The graph paper beneath suggests each is, in a way, a diagram. They all strive to make meaning of something fluid and elusive.

Her "Renga" series is based on a style of haiku exchange, with one poem responding to its predecessor, and so on. These are smaller works, but contain multitudes - in "Renga XIV (Glass Concerto I)" and "Renga XII (Glass Concerto II)," blank music staffs run under black-and-white images of water, beautifully tying the patterns and harmonics of music with the ebb and surge of waves.

Henry Wolyniec's wry little collages, also at Miller Block, look like domino games played with antique paper tiles. He puts dots on small pieces of often vintage paper and assembles them in loose grids. The work glances back to Kurt Schwitters and some of collage's roots in Dada and Surrealism, yet it's fresh and even impertinent.


'From a Fixed Point: New Art From the Old North Bridge'
At: Concord Art Association, 37 Lexington Rd., Concord, through Nov. 25. 978-369-2578.

Nancy Blum: 'Dangle, Dart & Drift' and Bill Durgin: 'Fashion Refigured'
At: Judy Ann Goldman Fine Art, 14 Newbury St., through Nov. 24. 617-424-8468.

Yu-Wen Wu: 'Internal Navigations' and Henry Wolyniec: 'Vigorous Balance'
At: Miller Block Gallery, 14 Newbury St., through Nov. 28. 617-536-4650.

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