Formal Education

F ive-pointed stars are transformed into delicate pentagons, and red and white stripes become a red, purple, pink, gray and white tapestry in fabric artist Rita Hannafin’s American Texture, now on view in City Gallery’s four-artist exhibition Shape of Color.

American Texture reads at first like a simpler homage to the flag from its position on the far wall of the gallery. But move in closer, and the stars and stripes-like forms become the background for a series of translucent photographs—a tribute to turn-of-the-20th-century textile workers, appropriately memorialized in fabric. Historic images printed on sheer organza are sewn to the flag by their top edges only, making them flags overlaying the flag. This nation, Hannafin’s piece suggests, is not represented merely by solid, abstract forms and fields.

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Hannafin’s work is both gestural and precise, a fact also evident in her painterly Sanctuary in the City, a landscape of intricate appliqués of birds, reeds, water, trees, buildings and more. Here the stitching plays as important a role as the fabric itself. A row of trees on the horizon, for example, is suggested by rounded forms of multicolored fabric overstitched with graceful, curved branches. One band of cloth with fraying pink edges suggests a sunset spreading its pale pink and purple and gold light into lower bands of water.

Bold or unexpected colors play a prominent role in all of the works in this show, which features City Gallery newcomer Hannafin beside three longtime gallery members. Paintings by Judy Atlas and photographs by Tom Peterson echo themselves and one another using playful blocks of bright color and geometric forms. Peterson’s quartet—Play 1, 2, 3 and 4—repeats a theme of circles and three-and four-sided shapes on a field of black, each piece anchored with a form in green. The shapes themselves are taken from Peterson’s photographs of the exterior walls of modern buildings in New Haven. Atlas’s shapes and colors in Orange Circle and 2 Blue Lines speak similarly to one another across the paired works, but hers, in acrylic paint, are layered and experiment with softer boundaries. Her painting More Quiet Exploration features wide, pale gray strokes of paint leaving enticing gaps and scratches of bright orange and blue peeking through, hinting at another world just out of reach and out of sight.

The colors in Joy Bush’s photographs come straight from nature, though they aren’t the colors you might expect. Through her lens, a wrinkled potato that’s been in the vegetable drawer too long becomes a quirky ovoid of gray and purple and green, sprouting fuzzy tumors and tiny ruffles of new growth. A Beleaguered Beet, one of its sides collapsed as if by a deep thumbprint, presents orange and brown and pale ivory stripes, with hoary hairs sprouting from its stumpy root end. The results, popping from bright-colored backdrops, are both awful and beautiful.

The artists at City Gallery learn from one another in monthly critiques, Bush says. She takes one of her photographs off the wall and gives it a quarter turn, then another, as a fellow member once suggested. A visitor could do the same—in their mind, at least. While shape and color may unify the works in Shape of Color, disparate media and artistic sensibilities separate them. There are other ways to sort them and other ways to see.

Shape of Color
City Gallery – 994 State St, New Haven (map)
Fri-Sun 1-4pm or by appointment through 8/8
(203) 782-2489 | [email protected]…

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1, featuring Rita Hannafin’s American Texture, and image 5 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 2, featuring work by Tom Peterson, courtesy of Tom Peterson. Image 3, featuring work by Judy Atlas, courtesy of Judy Atlas. Image 4, featuring Joy Bush’s Perplexed Potato, courtesy of Joy Bush.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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