Above and Below

Above and Below

In Above Us Only Sky, now on view at the Perspectives Gallery in Hamden’s Whitney Center retirement community, Lydia Viscardi’s Coverup series both obscures and reveals. In Coverup Hanky with Cocktails (2018), the artist has painted a handkerchief embroidered with wildflowers in cocktail glasses, a mass of contorted shapes barely visible behind the hanky’s translucent veil. In Coverup Silver on Purple (2018), a painted doily of fine tatting fills the frame. These restrained scraps of needlework are like handkerchiefs draped with decorum over the face of someone who has died on the street—softening, but not quite obliterating, the disaster. For Viscardi, that disaster is represented in the photographs that serve as her canvases: discarded images of car wrecks from legal trials. Washed in color and draped in her painted “coverups,” the crumpled hoods and twisted grills of these photos are an embarrassment, a problem, a tragedy that we’re initially distracted from seeing.

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Viscardi’s largest piece in the series is also her boldest. In Denial (2018), a painted chain link fence is overlaid with a collage of painted flowers applied to its surface as if growing up it. Brightly colored and fantastical, a combination of flora never found together in the wild, they seem almost aggressive in their attempt to obscure our view of the interior of a car, where deflated air bags hang. Seen beside another large piece, Released (2018), however, another possible reading of Viscardi’s theme emerges. Here, hands reach from beneath the hood of a wrecked car to release dozens of butterflies, some realistic and some imaginative. They, too, obscure a crash scene, but their coverup seems less intentional and more suggestive that beauty can overpower devastation, at least in part.

Elsewhere in this exhibition, which was curated by Debbie Hesse of the Ely Center of Contemporary Art, Carol Greenan Bouyoucos explodes her own subject matter from nature into big, kaleidoscopic images that transform ordinary leaves and buds and petals into new, larger-than-life forms. In Dark Poppy (2017), for example, a composite of pale green leaves forms a central design that refuses to match any expected shape found in nature, throwing off the viewer’s attempts to recognize and categorize. Yet, many natural forms are apparent. Slender white leaves and the heads of pink buds point toward the center. Veiny, serrated leaves cluster in the corners, while the shadows of other vegetation provide a dark lattice leading to a black interior.

Bouyoucos shoots her images with an iPhone, then uses several apps to alter them into mirrored quarters before printing them and coating them with a wax surface “to remove the work from a solely photographic conversation.” The repetition in Bouyoucos’s images is dynamic and wild, even unsettling. By moving more vibrant colors away from the center, she denies the eye a place to land and pushes her viewer to the edges.

Above Us Only Sky showcases the work of six artists in all, united by energetic expressions like Viscardi’s and Bouyoucos’s, both physical and colorful. Working in acrylic on canvas, Barbara Hawes paints vivacious still lifes of flowers that stretch and leap across the canvas, and Frank Bruckmann creates rugged highway landscapes in motion. Photographer Robert Sachs interprets his street subjects as if through a blurred prism that splits lines and scatters light. And in Amelia Toelke’s shimmering prints, repeated rings link disparate shapes into single units, suggesting connectivity.

The exhibition’s title comes from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s iconic song “Imagine,” advocating for a collected optimism in these works. Perhaps ironically, you’ll need to complete an electronic sign-in and temperature check in order to enter the building. But don’t be daunted; this exhibition is worth the trouble. Comprising 36 pieces, it’s hung along a broad, curving, glass-walled hallway at the south end of the Whitney Center complex. Enjoy these six artists’ works. Then turn around, and see the sky.

Above Us Only Sky
Perspectives Gallery at Whitney Center – 200 Leeder Hill Dr, Hamden (map)
Tues & Thurs 4-7pm, Sat 11-4pm through January 8
(203) 281-6745 | info@elycenter.org

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 features Denial by Lydia Viscardi. Image 2 features Dark Poppy by Carol Greenan Bouyoucos

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