A shape on the wall looks like a drop of slow-moving liquid that has, for a second, decided to resemble a peanut, but it’s only for the moment. On a nearby canvas, there’s a similar sense of motion caught just for the moment; if you turned your head away and looked at the painting again, maybe you’d find that the shapes had rearranged themselves in a different configuration, or left the canvas altogether to fly through the air.
The paintings are by New Haven-based artist Will Lustenader. The sculptures are by Maine-based artist Steve Bartlett. Gallery owner Fred Giampietro created a show pairing their work — which runs through March 8 — after seeing a “similar geometry and language” in what the artists were doing, he said. He saw a similar affinity for a narrow depth of field, for stylistic cues taken from the art of the 1970s, for applying meticulous technique to create playful objects and images that look like they could be in motion.
In some cases the two artists’ styles converge to the point where it would be possible to imagine that the exhibit is the work of one artist proficient in both painting and sculpture. In the above two pieces, both employ oranges and blacks, and even partake of similar shapes — almost as if the artists collaborated, though they didn’t. In another pairing in the gallery, it’s almost as if “the sculpture could slip into the painting,” Giampietro said; the silhouette of the Bartlett piece would be right at home among the shapes Lustenader has rendered. “I’m just trying to get these two guys to talk to each other,” Giampietro said with a laugh, describing putting their work together as “like a blind date.”
It’s a date that seems to be working out. “The artists are stronger together than apart,” Giampietro said, explaining how each draws the eye to the detail of the other — and allows the viewer to appreciate the fine differences that make them individuals as well.
There is Bartlett’s proclivity, in bending wood into the shapes he wants, to use the material’s natural grain as a background for the painting. “I think it was a little dangerous to blend the craft element into it,” Giampietro said of Bartlett’s sculptures, meaning the techniques needed to bend the wood into the shapes Bartlett wants. Those techniques are found in basket weaving and instrument making, but rather than following a specific plan, Giampietro said, Bartlett “just sort of starts and goes with it,” improvising here, following intuition there, until the piece is finished.
Meanwhile, at their most kinetic, Lustenader’s paintings give the sense of being animated already, as the shapes could dance across the canvas. The colors in the background, Giampietro pointed out, are meant to “go on,” to flow out of the canvas and across the wall. The overall feel can be reminiscent of a 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, or the vibe of a classic jazz record, in the best sense: energetic, surprising, fun.
That Lustenader’s and Bartlett’s work together and separately evoke elements of a certain mod lifestyle isn’t lost on Giampietro. “I hang them the way I would hang them in my house,” he said, pointing out that when people buy art and hang it up in their homes, “it’s usually not on a blank wall.” Besides the furniture to contend with, possibly a rug, there may be other art already there, maybe on an opposite wall, maybe on the same wall just a few feet away.
Adding new art to a room changes the room. Maybe “you have a painting and a piece of sculpture together,” Giampietro suggested. Or pictures of friends and family. Or an interesting wall color. A certain combination of elements that you get used to. “And then ten years go by and you find something that ratchets it up” — a new color, a new shape, that alters the place, and in a broader, more subtle sense, the way you use that place, even the way you live in it.
The current show at the Fred Giampietro Gallery, 1064 Chapel St., runs through March 8. Visit the gallery’s website for hours and more information.