EXHIBIT: "Sabra Field: Recent Work." T.W. Wood Gallery, Montpelier. Through December 21.
ARTWORK:"Injustice" by Sabra Field
Sabra Field's iconic prints of pastoral Vermont are a staple of the Green Mountain State's pop culture; she's practically become a brand name through a 40-year career as one of Vermont's pre-eminent printmakers. But casual viewers may not be aware of the diversity of her work. An extensive group of nearly 80 prints produced since 2000, currently showing at the T.W. Wood Gallery in Montpelier and simply entitled "Recent Work," transcends decorative Vermont stereotypes.
Field's topical and dramatic "Pandora Suite" is particularly atypical. Greek mythology is a fertile artistic resource, and the story of curious Pandora ignoring a warning not to open the infamous box - or jar, as some translations have it - is well known. "Pandora Suite" presents both the good and bad aspects of what was released on Earth when the jar was unsealed. The suite of 12, 24-by-32-inch prints features figures and symbols described in the Attic Greek ceramic style, in which terra-cotta-colored forms are surrounded by black backgrounds. Also in the ancient Greek manner, Field's compositions are simplified and stripped of extraneous information.
Pandora's name is described as meaning "Bringer of All Gifts" in the show's accompanying pamphlet, and Field includes circular, peaceful images representing "Farming" and "Mining" in the suite. "Farming" portrays a fecund pear that carries other fruits nested within it, like a matryoshka doll, floating over a low horizon. "Mining" has a high horizon line, with a chamber hollowed out beneath it. As interesting as the peaceful images are, the more troubled figurative images, such as "Injustice," "Suffering" and "Warfare," are the most haunting.
The hanged man of "Injustice" recalls a similar hanging from Goya's "Disasters of War" series. Field's human figure, and a black-on-black shadow at its right, dangle on a slight diagonal, as if subtly swaying. "Warfare" displays a row of standing amputees linked like paper dolls. "Suffering" conjures the cry of a starving mother with her face toward heaven, holding an emaciated child. Field notes in the show's press release: "Membership in a civilization which seems to have lost its way makes you think about those issues." Thus inspired, the "Pandora Suite" is riveting.
The "New Work" exhibition isn't all gloom and doom, however. "Val Tiberina" is a brilliantly colorful, 25-inch-square print with deckled edges. Field may have created it in Italy, where she works every June. A villa at the lower right overlooks a jumbled landscape of hills, farms and woods ascending a distant hillside. Field explores the scene below with a dozen shades of green, as pink and gray cumulus clouds float in a pale blue sky.
"Central Park South I & II" is another prominent non-Vermont landscape. The vertically oriented diptych of two woodcuts, each 32 inches tall by 16 inches wide, portrays diverse façades captured in two-point perspective from high in a skyscraper. The left print is all buildings, while the right print scans autumnal hues in Central Park. An indigo sky fading to a vespertine stratum of pink unfolds over a distant horizon.
Most of the show's landscapes do originate closer to home. In "Vermont Solstice," a 40-by-9-inch panoramic vista of rolling mountains, gray in the waning hours of day or perhaps night, tumbles beneath a red and pink firmament. Smaller details are clustered in the middle of the composition, within a foreground valley; angular, broad slopes venture more deeply into the picture plane.
While the "Pandora Suite" is the main event, it's not the only reason to visit this show. Field intends to donate 10 percent of sales to the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict. The humanitarian organization, established as a result of the Iraq war, aims to alleviate the suffering of war victims everywhere. Besides painting verdant pastures, Field is famous for making art for a noble cause.