By VICTORIA CRAIN
There was a day, in 2017, when a woman was shushed in the United States Senate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, while opposing the confirmation of the attorney general, tried to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King. She was stopped once, but persisted. Finally, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held a vote to silence Warren. Explaining later, McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
His statement immediately became an emblem of defiance, persistence and endurance, for the courage of both men and women who don’t give up.
It was during those early months of 2017 that artist Kate Longmaid awoke with a vision of portraits with graffiti written over them. She explains, “This vision led to a body of reworked portraits, featuring slogans from recent political events, quotations, and my own words. Portraits I completed years ago are reworked in the present, taking on new life and new meaning.”
This new body of work is on display now in Rutland, and it’s a hero collection. The show, “Hear Our Voice,” resides at the Alley Gallery until May 5.
Longmaid’s portraits are made in the alla prima tradition, in which the painting is finished in one sitting by applying wet paint on wet paint in layers. The method may be the reason that these portraits feel so immediate and urgent. The words painted over the images give the viewer a window into the minds of the subjects and of Longmaid.
Not all of these portraits declare themselves with words, but all share the paradoxical quality of intensity without effect. Subjects look out of the paintings with quiet faces, acknowledging neither artist nor viewer. They are invariably serious, and most make direct eye contact.
Longmaid’s style dramatizes the skeletal planes on these faces with light and shadow. Her color choices and brushwork are sharp and strong. The subjects and their portraits have no ambiguity. They look you in the eye.
The paintings are the right ones for the turmoil of our times. “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds,” says one portrait. The persistence of biology, the courage of perpetual quest.
Longmaid explains, “The first painting in this series was ‘Fight Like a Girl,’ reclaiming what it means to fight like a woman — with strength, resilience, grace, inclusivity and nonviolence.”
“The act of writing over the portraits has been empowering,” she writes, “and liberating. It has allowed me to channel my anger and speak out on issues involving human rights and social justice. Through these portraits I give myself and my subjects a voice. The portraits move from the singular to the universal, merging image with voice.”
From my point of view, the exhibit gives heart to persistence. Seeing the heroic words of our culture strengthens the spine. For example, “We hold these truths to be self-evident …” and “We are all immigrants,” and “There is no time for despair.”
Longmaid’s eloquent paintings show the path to courage. We knew it was there somewhere, and Longmaid found it. Personally, I would have called this exhibit “Take Heart.” Go see it.
Rutland Alley Gallery
The Alley Gallery presents “Hear Our Voice,” a contemporary approach to portraiture by Vermont artist Kate Longmaid, through May 5, at Center Street Alley, Rutland. Hours are: noon to 5 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; go online to www.77art.org.