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ON THE SCENE: Stewart and Dana present ‘Form and Energy’ at LPCA

August 11, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Ever look down into a vernal pool, maybe with a magnifying glass? It's teaming with life.

So, too, is the current exhibit at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts showcasing the talents of long-time seasonal resident Betsy Stewart and Richard Dana. Both artists are based in Washington, D.C.

The exhibit - which opened Friday, Aug. 4 and runs through Sept. 16 - includes music created by Egyptian composer Ashraf Fouad to accompany the pieces. If that weren't enough, dancers choreographed by Rebecca Kelly will perform to Fouad's music in the gallery on Aug.14.

Article Photos

Richard Dana
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Keeping in mind how long these artists spend making their works - Stewart can spend up to four months on a single piece - it's remarkable how fresh and vibrant it is. It does not feel overworked, but it exudes energy that draws the viewer in, much as a vernal pool does. The closer you look, the more there is going on. Since the 1990s, Stewart's work has been inspired by looking down into Adirondack waters. This show also references looking up at the Milky Way as if through the Hubble Telescope with a close-up lens.

It was Stewart's idea to have Dana exhibit with her.

"We've been in shows together all over the world," Stewart said at the show's opening reception. "Sometimes our work gets put together by the curators. We could see that there was some dialogue going on. When Richard said he was free to show with me, we got the opportunity to explore that dialogue. Richard's prints on canvas illustrate the energy of the universe, perhaps a molecular level of what I do."

Fouad, an American University in Cairo composer in residence, creates music about water and has worked with Dana and Stewart before in the "Take Me to the River" collaborative. He has worked in Lake Placid on a video and, this time, composed "The World of Betsy Stewart," music created while sitting on her veranda overlooking Lake Placid. Unfortunately, the time and cost of a round trip from Cairo kept him from attending the opening.

"I always did work about nature but think my microscopic water series began here," said Stewart. "It's a bit ambiguous. Is nature decaying or re-blooming? A life-death thing ongoing. I started to paint what we can't see, what's going on under the earth - a scientist would say, 'a dry specimen.' After climbing my 46th Adirondack peak, I decided to kayak as many remote ponds as I could. Sun shining into shallow wilderness waters creates that acidic green you see in my work. Painting inspired by looking into shallow water just took off."

Stewart creates layers of glazing. Realistic elements at the base are partly scrubbed off and layers of acrylic paint thinned in a medium are added, creating detailing and a luminosity that makes it seem that she's examining an inner space beyond what we can see with the naked eye.

Dana, a former Pentagon Soviet affairs specialist, dropped policy analysis for the risky business of making a living as an artist. At the time, he assumed it would take him a year to get established and start showing in major galleries, which was not at all the case, but stuck his new career nonetheless.

"Betsy and I are both interested in science and the illustration of scientific phenomena," said Dana. "We noticed a recurring pattern of imagery that similar one way or another is related to things scientific, which was the genesis for this show. Experimentation drives my work. I love to see what happens if I do this or that. I've been doing digital work, which you see here, for five years.

"A mutual friend, who was living in Cairo at the time, knew the Egyptian minister of culture who invited us and another friend to exhibit our work in Cairo. We decided we needed a common theme. As Cairo is along the Nile in Egypt and Washington, D.C. has the Potomac River, we got to thinking about using water as a common metaphor. The title of our collective was inspired by Al Green's song of the same name: 'Take Me to the River.' The exhibit was such as success we decided to continue working together and include some outreach projects."

"We are thrilled that Betsy agreed to another show and introduced us to Richard's work," said Diane Reynolds, chair of the Gallery Committee. "Betsy is so into nature! I've watched her work evolve. It's amazing how she does it."

"I think the show is marvelous," said art museum consultant Caroline Welsh, "I'm particularly impressed with Betsy's contributions to the body of work inspired by biology. I'm intrigued by her new colors and approach to other worlds that seemingly reference space as well as water. Her brilliant colors and exquisite technique make her works powerful. The pairing with Mr. Dana's work is really fun. They are helping us see beyond the known."

Two local dancers, Elodie Elinck of Saranac Lake and Morgan Broderick of Lake Placid, will be performing in the gallery on Monday, Aug. 14 to a dance choreographed by Rebecca Kelly.

"I've known them over 12 years, since before they started performing on stage," said Kelly. "Over the lunch hours of our two-week summer residency, I worked with them to create their piece as an add-on to this exhibit. Betsy and Richard reconfigured the gallery space for their show. That's a challenge for us! We had to make some last-minute adjustments. Plus, the dancers will have to respond to wherever the audience members may be standing."

"Form and Energy" is an exhibit that keeps unfolding. The more one sees it, the more one sees and experiences. Similarly, a vernal pool will long reveal new aspects of itself.



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