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See things differently at Kimball Jenkins

  • “Heads,” a woodcut intaglio, by Mary Mead. Courtesy

  • "Black Zinnia," a pronto plate lithograph, by Mary Mead. Courtesy—

  • Courtesy—

  • "The Plankton: Plastic Ratio," oil on canvas, by Ali Keller. Courtesy—

  • “Deconstructed / Reconstructed,” a digital print, by Becky Barsi. Courtesy

  • “A Whole World Made Up of Impossible Tiny Moments,” oil on canvas, by Ali Keller. Courtesy of Kimball Jenkins School of Art

  • The gallery wall at the Kimball Jenkins School of Art. Courtesy—



For the Monitor
Thursday, February 15, 2018

‘Figuratively Speaking,” currently on view at Kimball Jenkins Estate, both embraces abstraction in art and acknowledges how central figure is to how we see. As humans we’re wired to look for recognizable shapes – eyes, nose and mouth to make a face, edges and contrast to ground us in space. This exhibit invites the viewer to envision figures and our place in the world in new ways, through shape, color, texture, and deconstructed depictions of bodies. This is art that creates metaphors for topics as wide-ranging as universality to environmental concerns to body image.

Becky Barsi’s large, crumpled photographs of herself and her mother looking at each other across the blank gallery wall make me uncomfortable, which is the intent. In her “Deconstructed/Reconstructed” series Barsi expresses her own discomfort with the constant struggle for women to love their bodies and reject the judgmental lens of the commercial world, a world where women are thin and flawless.

The discarding gestures in Barsi’s work, shaping her photographs into crinkled humps that look as if they’re being throw away, symbolize shedding body shame. Through a process of destruction (crumpling) and reconstruction (display), Barsi articulates the tension between her rational knowledge of the artificial constructs of beauty and the irrational response to flaws in her own body.

By including her mother’s face in her rumpled and fractured photographs, Barsi also explores the body images mothers pass to daughters. Inadequacy meets love and acceptance. Barsi’s provocative art asserts that our resistance to corporatized messages of female beauty gives love and acceptance a chance of coming out on top.

Mary Mead’s “Heads,” hung next to Barsi’s scrunched photographs, present more questions. Three intricately wood cut and colored prints of featureless heads are striking and enigmatic. Oversize and recognizably human, yet mysterious and indistinguishable as male or female, face or back, the heads create an infinite portrait that can’t be pinned down. Are these the heads of everyone or no one? Another Mead print, “Black Zinnia,” is equally ambiguous. The beauty of the floral shape is undercut by the dark colors that could be the skin of a tiger or a garden flower fading in dusk.

Ali Keller’s work is has fewer recognizable shapes than Barsi’s or Mead’s, but conveys its own strong message. Keller expresses her concerns for the environment in her work, often by writing directly on the canvas or print. Her piece “Plankton:Plastic Ratio” depicts the chaos of human trash in the natural environment, with bold splashes of paint circling around what could be the nose of a whale emerging from a polluted sea. “This is where whales die,” is scribbled across the canvas, the words partly obscured by paint, as our own awareness of our effect on the environment is often obscured by our distance from the natural world.

Keller’s painting, “A Whole World Made Up Of Impossible Tiny Moments” has an even darker view of environmental peril. “This outward echo” is written across the top of a table, or possibly a plateau (the alternate title of the painting), while a swirl of dark tones hovers above and blackness drips below. Keller’s artist statement on her website is a poem with the line “There’s the house falling apart.” This painting is arresting, and successful in making us ask, is this our house, and what are we doing to keep it intact.

Artists in the show include Jessica Allard, James Chase, Pam Tarbell, Sam Trioli, Alison Palizzolo and others. Mike Howat, a painter and current artist-in-residence and instructor at the Kimball Jenkins Estate, curated the show to showcase both established and emerging abstract artists of New England.

“I wanted to provide a stage for artists who might not fit within the usual confines of predominately landscape-oriented galleries in New Hampshire,” Howat said. “The goal of this exhibition is to offer the public a chance to see artists that have been flying just under the radar.”

Howat, whose own work is currently on view at an exhibit in the Kimball Jenkins mansion, has achieved his goal of presenting a diverse selection of abstract art that is thought provoking and accomplished. Figuratively Speaking encourages the viewer to contemplate our place in the world from vantage points as diverse as how we see our bodies and how those bodies affect our environment.

“Figuratively Speaking” will be on view at the Kimball Jenkins Estate in the Carriage House Gallery through March 15. An opening reception will be Thursday evening,  from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided.