If timing is everything, Ashley Roark has to be feeling fulfilled. She's the curator of "White Wash," a group show that opened earlier this month at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery in Burlington. "There is a beautifully eerie quality of winter when there's a fresh blanket of snow on the ground," reads an introductory panel, "and here in Vermont, we are in the thick of it." Sure enough, more than 18 inches of whiteness enveloped Burlington soon after "White Wash" opened.
Curiously, only a couple of the 40-plus pieces in the show allude directly to snow. But all of them have been crafted with the pale palette that Roark used as an organizing element, and which she describes in her posted intro as "quiet, serene and ghostly."
Prints, collages, drawings, ceramics, photographs, sculptures and installations make up this diverse display of works by mostly young local artists. Their efforts vary in quality as much as in media. And that unevenness can apply even to pieces created by the same individual.
Roark herself, for example, is represented in the show by nine small collages of layered fragments of paper that have a crowded, cluttered look. They're utterly unlike the beautifully simple — and simply beautiful — array of more than 100 floral pins that she has pushed into a gallery wall to form a pattern resembling a constellation, or perhaps a flock of birds seen from afar. Thin shadows cast by a spotlight on the differently angled pins produce an illusion of motion, making the tapered design appear as though it's surging up and across the wall.
In addition to Roark's, "White Wash" contains another set of small collages consisting of layered shards — fabric as well as paper, in this case — that seem altogether too busy. Fraying, dangling threads give these half-dozen pieces an unkempt look that's no doubt deliberate but is still lacking in visual allure. Molly Bosley, the maker of these woodblock-mounted assemblages, achieves a far more pleasing result with her graphite drawings on sheets of Mylar, or polyester film.
These figurative but cryptic creations feature crisply drawn houses or persons in the foreground and faded, blurry images behind them. Bosley produces this contrast between sharp and soft focus by covering one drawing on a sheet of Mylar with another. Because the material is semitranslucent, the under-drawing can be seen hazily through the sheet on top. The disjointed visual narratives that result from this layering technique leave a viewer more intrigued than baffled.
Two large pieces Bosley produced in this fashion bear a resemblance to traditional Chinese landscape painting — except that on the top layer of one, the artist has drawn a 1950s American suburban family scene. Mom and the kids sit around a table while dad leans from his chair to offer a morsel of something to an attentive aardvark.
Lorraine Reynolds is another artist in the show whose works vary radically in medium and impact. "How Heavy Is Your Heart?" consists of an old, rusty table scale with heart-shaped balls of twine (white, of course) placed on and around it. Viewers familiar with Reynolds' found-object assemblages will recognize the vintage sensibility and may find it engaging for a moment or two.
But they will find themselves more attentive to Reynolds' pair of prints on loosely hung cotton sheets, titled "Whisper." An adolescent girl stands facing out in each of the side-by-side pieces. In the longer of the two, her head is cropped just below her nose, and her right arm is crooked across her waist. The girl's entire face appears in the shorter of the prints, but its left side is covered by her thick, uncombed hair. Her arms dangle at what would be her sides — if Reynolds had sketched the girl's torso.
Is she dead? Entranced? Either way, the prints give off the ghostly aura that "White Wash" promises.
Traditional skill is combined with techie material — Mylar, again — in Emily Parulis' trio of drawings of dried flowers. The meticulous, subtle shadings of the plants' stems and leaves in these large-scale graphite compositions make them look like low reliefs. They appear to protrude from the milky whiteness that surrounds them.
Off in a corner of the gallery, alongside Roark's untitled arrangement of floral pins, a small, circular white object sits atop a pedestal that looks like an inverted golf tee. The bending, twisting form is easy to overlook. But if you pass it by, you'll have missed a glimpse into the future of sculpture.
Matt Flego made "Moebius" with a 3-D printer. It's one of the first works to emerge from Generator, the maker space that officially opens on March 29 in the annex of Burlington's Memorial Auditorium. Roark chose wisely in pairing "Moebius" with her own minimalist array. Together, they offer evidence that art doesn't have to preen to attract an admiring gaze.