New Haven, Ruins & All
by Allan Appel | Feb 13, 2013 11:36 am
Posted to: Arts & Entertainment, Visual Arts
On the heels of an upcoming civic anniversary, downtown’s newest art gallery is celebrating the work and career of a local artist who has been painting city scenes for the past 50 of New Haven’s 375 years.
Although Anna Held Audette calls herself a painter of “ruins of our day,” her bravura locomotives, ships’ hulls, imposing sections of bridges, abandoned warehouses, and de-peopled industrial sites don’t make you feel sad, lonely, or abandoned at all.
Quite the opposite. To be forlorn you have to be without hope or that tank inclining to empty.
It’s impossible to feel that way as Audette’s locomotive chugs toward you at an angle you know will leave you quite alive, and in awe.
Or as you view the brakes of trains, the hulls of ships, or the nacelle of a space capsule from angles that are both fanciful and reverential.
Eighteen of her paintings, all oil on canvas, along with prints and smaller works on paper, are on view at Reynolds Fine Art on lower Orange Street.
Three of the paintings have been sold since the exhibition opened on Feb. 1. Another almost is ready to have a red dot put next to it, said Reynolds’ Gallery Director Denise Lysak.
“The 375th anniversary of [the founding of] New Haven is April. We wanted to do something [to mark that occasion] with an artist who cradles the city, the good and the bad,” Lysak said.
At least half a dozen of the paintings in the show have New Haven scenes or titles or both, including “Old New Haven Terminal” and “Old New Haven.”
In 2008 Audette came down with Pick’s Disease, a brain degeneration condition; the staff has been unable to speak with her to identify the buildings in some of her paintings. In an email message, her husband, Louis Audette, said that the building depicted in “Old New Haven Terminal” was off Forbes Avenue. Another of the paintings titled “Old New Haven” was of the former Graves Cigar Factory, visible only with the demolition of the Coliseum.
Lysak said that Audette, who taught at Southern until her retirement in the mid 1990s, has produced 18 new works with the help of an assistant since her diagnosis.
The gallery staff did not want to speculate on why Audette, the daughter of of an art historian who was an expert on Rembrandt and Rubens, might be drawn to such typically male subject matter.
Although several of the pieces are clearly an homage to the great architecture-inspired print makers of the 17th and 18th centuries, there’s clearly as much Erector Set and Lionel Trains and A.C. Gilbert here as Piranesi.
“I can’t tell you how many guys who have come in” to comment on the locomotive in the gallery’s Orange Street window, said Lysak.
Audette wrote that his wife simply likes painting “Big Things.”
“Anna was never concerned with gender issues, in the sense that there are male or female domains. Her real interest lay in the realization that American industry was in decline and the most obvious manifestations of change were in male dominated elements of our culture,” he reported.
It doesn’t in the end matter which terminal, specific building, or bridge or theme. Audette’s ruins are somewhere in the zone between the realistic, the historical, and knocking on the door of the mythical. Some images of decline are even enigmatically bathed in the warm glow of romantic light.
Their point, on an anniversary that doesn’t seem to be getting much municipal attention (at least not yet), is that the past, especially in a 375-year-old American town whose ruins are daily beneath our feet, is an asset that repays paying close attention to.
The show runs through April 3.