"Museum offers stimulating exhibits"
Published in the New Bedford Standard-Times on October 31, 2009
Roger Kizik's swashbuckling canvases brim with detail. His paints splatter and ooze, his colors bounce and shimmer, his patterns slash and curl.
With "Disparate Dialogue," curated by David B. Boyce, the New Bedford Art Museum presents a retrospective of more than 80 paintings from the Dartmouth artist's 40-year career. There is great diversity among these works, which range from representational landscapes to abstract patterns, from sketchbook-sized watercolors on paper to towering acrylics on canvas. Yet each piece reveals its maker's confident hand, observant eye and arch perspective.
The show opens with works from Kizik's student days, including a 1970 work titled "Hilltop, Winthrop," depicting a row of double-decker houses crowded onto a steep slope overlooking the bay. It is a sensitive consideration of subtle color relationships, cropped composition and angled forms delineating navigable space.
Many artists would have reached this impressive level of achievement and been content to rest on their laurels, enjoying an accomplished career by repeating these lovely scenes. But Kizik's quirky imagination and restless sense of adventure would never have allowed him to stop here.
Throughout his career, Kizik has continued to push the boundaries of what paint can do. He has explored thick textures, muscular strokes, bold colors and complex patterns. The extremes of these experiments are revealed in "Cipher," in which chunks have been carved out of a heavy layer of red and green paint, with the deepest areas embellished by rows of precise black lines. "Lone Pine" is a thick pole of paint, slathered onto a narrow vertical canvas in mounds of bright blue, goldenrod, black, raspberry and emerald green.
For glorious impact, there is "Devil's Playground," measuring 92 inches tall by 106 inches wide. Here, cool vistas of blue and green are punctuated with swinging marks, bubbling circles and streaming lines in bright reds and yellows. Reference seekers might find hints of aerial landscape views or maps, but this work can be enjoyed as simply a joyful co-mingling of vibrating shapes and unexpected color combinations.
Each of Kizik's works contain some reference to water, whether through literal depiction or the implication of wave-like energy. "The Boathouse, East Anglia" presents a welcoming porch set casually with wicker chairs looking out over the open sea. "Armani" shows a rubber ducky perched on a bathroom sink. Water as a recurring theme underscores Kizik's free spirit and his sense of wonder, even at everyday views.
In contrast to Kizik's celebration of life, Kim Witham's photographs explore the mystery of death. In an exhibition titled "Transcendence," also curated by Boyce for the New Bedford Art Museum, Witham presents portraits of deceased animals she has found along the roadside.
These are all familiar creatures — squirrels, chipmunks, deer, seagulls — but we're used to seeing them scurry over the grass or glide across the sky. Here they are captured close up, in the state of rigor mortis by Witham's lens, and we have a chance to admire the intricate beauty of their anatomy: mottled fur, folded feathers, curved hooves, clutching paws.
Beyond the privilege of these rare views, Witham's images ask us to consider the experience of death and its connection to life. Her camera focuses on these creatures at tilted angles and in cropped views. With no background but an infinite sea of black, created by the black cloth the artist lays them on when she photographs them, the animals seem to float or fly like spirits.
The titles of these works imply that the animals' existence has not ended, even though their bodies are lifeless: "Sleeping Squirrel," "Dreaming Fox," Drifting Raccoon." The display of her series in the two vault galleries of the museum, a former bank building, reinforces the elusive nature of the artist's subject matter and themes.
Witham does not try to provide answers to the puzzle of immortality; she poses the questions with her photographs, inspiring us to examine our own deepest-held beliefs.
Kizik's retrospective offers a rare opportunity to regard the career achievements of one of Massachusetts's contemporary masters. When viewed alongside Witham's photographs, the experience is both stimulating and haunting, not soon forgotten.
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