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Color Keys 

Art Review: Carolyn Shattuck, WalkOver Gallery

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Just through the WalkOver Gallery’s screen door on Bristol’s Main Street, a row of colorful collaged works greets visitors. The series of small cut-paper and print works jostles the eye with bright hues and geometric patterns, inviting viewers to linger over their lively surfaces. Their creator, Carolyn Shattuck, is a Rutland-based artist with nearly 30 years’ experience working in diverse media. Her exhibition at the WalkOver encompasses works in printmaking, book arts and collage. Seen together, they present a cohesive visual vocabulary of blocky shapes and surprising color.

Shattuck’s artwork is rooted in the practice of printmaking. In the large prints shown upstairs, individual monoprint plates printed over each other create subtle, layered environments of color, pattern and line. Near a huge, arched window at one end of the upstairs gallery, Shattuck’s handmade books are arranged across a large table. The often-lighthearted mini-tomes are fun to handle, beautifully constructed and frequently created from printed elements. Shattuck’s collage works on clayboard, which are shown on both floors, feature multicolored, printed fragments of paper cut and collaged to create layered abstractions.

Shattuck’s exhibition, titled “Key West: Inside/Outside,” centers on the contrast between the natural beauty of that Florida island and the vibrant Bahamian culture that thrives in its neighborhoods. Shattuck, who spends four months of the year in Key West, says the place reminds her and her husband of Okinawa, Japan, where the couple lived for three years in the early 1970s. “Okinawa and the Keys are on the same latitude,” the artist explains, “The weather is subtropical, and the Keys had a sentimental familiarity. We love the water.”

Shattuck’s works are a play of contrasts, interweaving what she calls the “cacophony of the Bahamian village, with chickens and music and dogs and cats and people sitting out on their porches yelling across the street,” and the serenity of the island’s shoreline and wildlife.

In “Bird Song I,” smudged stripes of inky blue and wavy cut-paper stripes of gray swirl around yellow spots that punctuate the bluish space like the orbs in van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night.” Below those watery blues, a large mound arcs up from the painting’s bottom edge, meeting the right side of the work. Inside the mound, curved, batik-esque, printed geometric shapes orbit a central etching of a one-legged bird, which stands on a rectangle of bright, yellow-green paper. The contrasts between fabric-like patterns and organic swirls, and between the blues and bright green, suggest a lively interchange between nature and culture.

While Shattuck’s new collages are unambiguously the brightest and most energetic, her large printed works convey calm. In “Mangrove III,” a dark shape winds its way down the center of the piece, its tendril-like lines extending toward the edges of the work. Pale-blue and green gossamer layers hover over darker prints with kinked, almost brain-like patterns. Some passages are linear patchworks of snaking parallel lines, resembling an aerial view of farmland. Elsewhere in the work, representational images of a turtle and a bird are plainly visible, contrasting with areas that are purely abstract, layered combinations of color, texture, form and line.

The central black shape in “Mangrove III” was inspired by the trees that grow along the gulf side of the Keys. Shattuck and her husband often kayak through the mangrove roots, she says, sometimes getting stuck among them. The artist calls the water-bound roots “wonderful shapes,” and explains the allure of their tropical environment: “It is a feeling of serenity to be surrounded by nature. You are in a different world.”

Moving between the collage works that contrast nature and culture and her more ethereal prints, which focus on nature itself, the viewer sees a reflection of Shattuck’s immersion in the particular bounty of Key West. In the space of these raucous yet carefully crafted works, the joyful patterns of island life and the serene patterns of nature converge, offering viewers a refreshing glimpse of both.

”Key West: Inside/Outside,” paintings by Carolyn Shattuck. WalkOver Gallery, Bristol. Through August 24. Shattuck will give an artist’s talk on August 16 at 6 p.m. Info, 453-3188.

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