By Victoria Crain
Visual Art Review
The Christine Price Gallery at Castleton University is usually full of young people coming and going to class, to the theater, to the scene shop. It seems fitting, then, that the gallery is now hung with an installation of portrait paintings made by Middlebury artist Kate Gridley.
Gridley reflects emerging adults — the phase of life between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood — from all walks of life in an installation that recognizes all of their human potential. Using painted canvases, each 30 by 60 inches, and sound portraits, audible through cellphone technology, “Passing Through” marks moments in which emerging adults transition to realize themselves and claim their voices.
The 17 individuals Gridley includes in her exhibition look like confident, poised people. They are old enough to know their own minds, and Gridley has given them the technology to add their thoughts to the artistic process. Each portrait has an attached audio file so that gallery guests can hear the subjects describe themselves, their aspirations and beliefs.
While I looked at the portraits, Gridley was holding an artist talk with a group of students. She asked them to consider how people best communicate with one another. Some agreed that body language is often as important as the spoken word. In her portraits, we see that Gridley has captured her subjects looking directly out of the picture, thumbs in pockets or hands in motion: postures filled with personality. Since she allowed her subjects to choose apparel they found most comfortable, the portraits reveal comfort zones and styles.
Gridley’s idea to present her group at just the point when they are pivoting from youth to adult lives, is an especially interesting device, because it implies a brief pause before momentum moves them on. Her decision to combine the visual images with audio messages is fascinating, too. It creates a synthesis between the past and the future: a link between times, which is exactly the idea she wants to capture visually.
Her subjects are moving on — passing through. Likewise, Gridley moves portrait art forward in time. She uses her profound painting method, in the tradition of Renaissance portrait painters, as well as modern audio technology, to create complete pictures: narrative portraits. Her departure poses questions.
If you look at a portrait, what do you want to glean? Do you want to think about how the artist uses light and color and her medium? Do you want to sense some characteristic of the subject? Do you want to plumb the subject’s story? Do you want to know everything, or prefer to wonder?
Gridley’s installation is traveling through New England and will only be at the Christine Price until May 7. Catch it while you can, because it too is passing through and right now we have an opportunity to contemplate its subject and its artistry. Talk with Kate Gridley about her project at an artist reception at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 19.
Castleton University presents “Passing Through: Portraits of Emerging Adults,” paintings by Kate Gridley, through May 7, at the Christine Price Gallery, Fine Arts Center, 45 Alumni Drive in Castleton. Hours are: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; call 802-468-1119, or go online to www.castleton.edu. A public artist’s reception will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 19.