Set in Motion

Set in Motion

It feels great to get up and move around, to literally be inside a gallery again, surrounded by art. It’s exciting to be able to peer in close, to stand back, to sense the work all around you. So it’s fitting that movement is a central theme in Journeying, a pairing of exhibitions featuring the works of Kim Weston and Frank Bruckmann at Kehler Liddell Gallery. You can see it in person, by appointment or on weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., if you’re wearing a mask and with a group of four or fewer.

Weston’s half of Journeying features photographs of Native American dancers in motion. Sitting on the ground at a powwow and shooting in sync with the beat of the drum, Weston captures on film what is lost in the moment: beautiful, ghostly images that seem to bend and reach and spin. In Aztec Winds, one of seven large-scale photographs, the dancer bisects the image vertically—black on one side, deep blue on the other—while orange light streaks horizontally across the bottom. Twisting up the center, the dancer moves from oranges and yellows to pinks and whites, a corkscrew of motion with a spray of feathers at the top, whirling as if up and out of the frame.

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In other pieces, the movement feels different. In Light Watcher, high-energy, rhythmic repetition creates tight, bright parallel lines in electric green and gold, while in Ghost Dancer, the motion is jagged, topped with a crown of brown wisps like smoke rising from a fire. The exhibition also includes 19 smaller works arrayed in clusters on a facing wall. Here it’s easier to connect with the dancers as humans; in some photographs it’s possible to see their faces, floating as if separated from their bodies, which have taken on shapes both recognizable and otherworldly. In Rays, a dancer’s ecstatic face leans back and rises from a volcanic mountain of color. A blurred face is frozen amid blue wings like water, flecked with color that leaps from the photograph in Star Light. Echoes of a face in profile, one stronger and one more faint, are surrounded by the colors and textures of skin and blanket in Woodland Warriors. Nearly every figure is offset by a dark background, a literal or figurative night sky behind the auroras of Weston’s mysterious images.

Spread beneath most of the larger portraits are red prayer bundles. Filled with tobacco and tied with sinew, they’re meant to help anchor viewers in the sacredness of the work. “When dancers go out into the circle, it is a form of prayer,” explains Weston, who also dances when she’s not taking photographs. “We usually pray for family members that might be sick, or we pray for the earth, or we pray for well-being.” The tobacco in the bundles is meant to be burned so its smoke can deliver the prayers.

At first, Weston says, she was taking National Geographic-style documentary photos of the powwows. Then her graduate school classmates challenged her to do something more, so she started experimenting with the shutter speed and aperture. “This motion really started to feel like a painting, and the blur was really exciting, and I got this groove with it and started seeing energies in it and seeing other beings in the work,” Weston says, adding that whatever she had tapped into scared her at first. “I knew I was onto something that had power to it and that expressed what many dancers feel in the circle, but I’ve caught it visually.”

People outside New Haven have been feeling the power of Weston’s images as well. Other works are currently displayed at the Amistad Center for Art and Culture (inside Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art) and the Fitchburg Art Museum in Massachusetts, with two more shows upcoming.

Back at Kehler Liddell, in the front of the gallery, Frank Bruckmann’s paintings offer a different sense of movement, one more linear and heavy, grounded on the pavement of I-95, I-91, the Merritt Parkway and other highways and byways. In many of them, he locates the viewer in the middle of a busy lane of traffic. You’re not quite in the driver’s seat. There’s no windshield or rearview mirror. The effect is a feeling of speed, and danger. And yet, there’s stillness in which to appreciate the orange paint impressionistically spraying off a traffic barrel in I-91 Hartford, the pleasing curve of a silvery tanker truck’s rear end in I-91, North of Hartford or the wavelets of water leaping off the pavement in Somewhere on I-91.

The lower half of many of Bruckmann’s canvases is consumed by bare pavement. Step in closer to appreciate the texture—not pebbled like real asphalt but smeared and dabbed—and the layers of color: blues, greens, splashes of violet and gold, colors never before seen embedded in a highway. Even the white-striped lines aren’t really white. And don’t miss Bruckmann’s skies, striped with pink or lit from below.

Perhaps the most compelling piece in this half of the show is I-95 Rest Stop Milford. Here, the viewer stands at the end of a dark corridor, squinting at the taillights of a truck in the distance. The brightly colored lights and unreadable signs on one side of the lane are reflected on the other side in the metallic wall of a passing tractor trailer. The scene is both familiar and jarring, placing you somewhere you could never actually stand: the middle of a dark, busy highway at night. It raises the instinct to run—but there’s too much to see.

Bruckmann confesses he “hate being on the highway,” commuting back and forth to a teaching gig in Norwalk’s Rowayton neighborhood. The joy is in turning the drudgery of driving and the mundanity of the road into something pleasurable through attention to the juxtaposition and movement of shapes, “just looking at all these beautiful compositions that are out there,” he says.

Given his choice of travel destinations, Bruckmann might rather be in Provence, where he recently spent a year painting the landscape, or on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine, where in a normal summer, he’d be headed out to teach painting workshops. Instead, he’s on to his next body of work, a much-larger-than-life series of animal skulls.

In a disrupted world, you’ve got to find a way to keep moving.

solo shows by Kim Weston and Frank Bruckmann
Kehler Liddell Gallery – 873 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Sat-Sun 10am-2pm through July 12; and by appointment
SalonThrive conversation with Weston and Bruckmann: July 5, 5pm
(203) 389-9555

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1 and 2, of Woodland Warriors and Star Light, provided courtesy of Kim Weston. Images 3 and 4, of I-91, North of Hartford and I-95 Rest Stop Milford, provided courtesy of Frank Bruckmann.

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