Mallory Bratton Rich sticks mainly to one medium but manages to produce a variety of visual effects in her small show at Left Bank Home & Garden in Burlington.
Ten of the dozen works on display were executed with pastels on sanded paper. That surface has a grabby quality well suited to the sticks of pigment, which can be applied to the paper in up to 25 layers. Rich puts these properties to diverse purposes. Her impressionistic images range from foggy and darkling, as in “Mist on the Marsh,” to gently swirling (“Stickney Falls Brook”) to crisply clear (“Another View of Maine”).
Even as Rich varies the look of her compositions, her subject matter stays the same: unpeopled landscapes of Vermont, eastern New York and coastal Maine. Tranquility is a constant as well; Rich’s scenes are never stormy and seldom dramatic. Rivers flow into smooth pools; trees sway against unthreatening skies; snow glints in angled sunlight.
“I try to paint the small, everyday moments in the landscape which pass not quite unnoticed in our busy day,” Rich writes in an artist statement available at the gallery. Her aim, whether she’s painting in the studio or outdoors, is always “to capture the elusive and complex quality of light, shadow and atmosphere.”
Her pieces avoid monotony by conveying a diversity of moods: mournful, cheery, pensive. Rich attributes this evocative quality to her preferred medium, explaining, “I often use pastels because they are a little magical — as though mood was hand rolled in with the pigment.”
The artist found her métier late in life. In an interview last month with Manhattan Arts International director Renée Phillips, Rich says she was in her sixties when, “on a pure whim,” she signed up for a pastel workshop. “My whole life changed,” she adds in the interview, which can be accessed from her website.
Rich had retired from a business-writing company she’d founded and was working as a fiction writer at the time of her epiphany. Maybe the revelation of interest and talent had something to do with her marriage to Harry Rich, whom she describes as “a serious, lifelong artist.”
As if trying to compensate for lost time, the septuagenarian Sandgate resident has been the recipient of four residencies at the Vermont Studio Center. Rich has studied oil painting as well as pastels with a quartet of teachers, including Stuart Shils at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She’s represented by three galleries — one of them in Birmingham, Ala. — and has had numerous solo shows during the past 10 years.
Partly because her work doesn’t preen for attention, visitors to Left Bank won’t immediately focus on Rich’s suite of pastels and pair of oils. The show’s diffidence is due more, however, to the tasteful clutter of furniture, accessories, plants, rugs, fabrics and lighting fixtures that fills the retail space located beside A Single Pebble. As Donna Bourne, an assistant to shop owner Trice Stratmann, notes, Left Bank is primarily “an eclectic mix of new, vintage and antique from around the world.”
This may not be the ideal venue for an art show as restrained as Rich’s, but her work does feel comfortably situated. It complements, rather than competes with, the bounteous surroundings.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Everyday Moments"