Painter Barbara Wagner gives the old aphorism “nothing ventured, nothing gained” a more positive spin in the title of her solo exhibition at Stowe’s Green Mountain Fine Art Gallery: “Something Ventured — Something Gained.” The “something gained” is 15 exuberant mixed-media abstractions from several different series.
Wagner doesn’t render objects from the real world; rather, she creates brilliant expressions of color and texture, organized into engaging compositions. In an online artist’s statement, she writes, “Abstraction sets me free. It encourages exploration of aesthetic richness and complexity, and pushes me into uncharted territory.” That push happily sends viewers into uncharted territory, as well.
The “Looking Eastward” series incorporates fabrics and collage elements to invent opulent surfaces with varied textures and engaging rhythms. At 28 by 40 inches, “Looking Eastward #13” is the largest piece in its series presented here. It’s a rumpled field of pale white and silvery gray impasto and shreds of patterned collage. Three areas of crimson and Hooker’s green, blended with other dark colors, float across the canvas. Wagner sets up a triangular composition as sturdy as any Renaissance painting using a similar device.
Other pieces from the series are smaller, with the most petite just eight inches square. “Looking Eastward #6” is a wonderful blue abstraction with gold fabrics buried in the paint. It’s a departure from the warm, almost gaudy tones that Wagner typically favors. “Looking Eastward #9” is an 8-by-8-inch canvas containing snippets of patterned fabrics in a convoluted surface of earthy hues, spiced with a bit of lavender. The relatively more open lower left and upper right corners offer a bit of breathing space, and they help create circular movement in the composition. Wagner stretched the little canvases in the “gallery wrap” style, extending the painted surface around the stretchers’ edges. In this way each picture becomes a three-dimensional object.
Several paintings from the “Tracks and Traces” group have more organic hues than those found in other series. “Tracks and Traces #9” features the colors of late autumn: sienna, ocher and drifts of white. The 36-by-40-inch work has slivers of darkness embedded in impasto-white areas and the reddish brown of raw sienna at upper right.
“Tracks and Traces #24,” at 32 by 38 inches, has a similar light-valued background. Patches of color, like leaves frozen into pond ice, are scattered over the surface. Here the sienna area, a focal point, is above and to the left of center.
Wagner’s “In the Year of the Buffalo” group debuted several years ago, and a few pieces from the collection appear in this exhibit. Those works have a more linear compositional structure, with horizontal bands dividing the picture planes into several sections. The 32-by-26-inch “In the Year of the Buffalo #5” is broken into four large horizontal segments. Squares are lined up like building blocks within the sections, with pale values above and darker blues and greens below. A bright-purple line traverses the lower parts of the canvas, and six abstract forms in similar hues run horizontally in a band above.
At a time when narratives seem to be all the rage in the visual arts, it’s refreshing to see the work of a painter enthralled with “the act of painting itself, the creation of my own varied shapes and textures and the orchestration of color,” as Wagner writes. In virtuosic hands, the formal, abstract elements of painting will never go out of style.
Barbara Wagner, abstract works in oil. Green Mountain Fine Art Gallery, Stowe. Through December 31. greenmountainfineart.com