By Jane Heil Usyk
There was an event at the end of March at the Westbeth Gallery on Bethune and West streets. It was the opening of a five-woman art show called “Worlds Seen and Unseen,” which spanned all four rooms of the large gallery. There were five distinct and very different styles of painting. Karin Batten’s smooth, accomplished semi-abstracts, colorful and imaginative in scope and holding within them some troubling current ideas such as the fouling of our oceans, are very sophisticated.
There are two different styles for Carolyn Oberst. The first entails colorful, abstract patterns (many triangles) floating on pale backgrounds. The second, with many human figures arranged on patterned backgrounds, presents themes of memory and the mind, and the processing of experience. These are among the “unseen” worlds in the show’s title. So we, the viewers, are left with questions such as “What is being remembered?” “Why is it important?” and “Who is this person or that person in Oberst’s life and memory?”
Barbara Rachko’s very large and dark pictures, derived from Mexican folk art figures placed in everyday but bizarre settings, unsettle the observer. She reproduces them with 25 to 30 layers of pastels painted onto sandpaper. The results, inspired by Colombian and Mexican cultures, are mystifying to the viewer.
Carolyn Golden pastes pictures of household items meticulously cut from old magazines into new, visual delights and configurations, giving the old a new context. In her Cabinet of Curiosities, for example, two huge eggs rest on a love seat; a tiny rowboat is stashed nearby. In another scene, a large comb, some dice, a snake, scissors and a ring are arrayed in a front hall. All of the scenes are framed in a homey green cabinet. When people are part of the picture, they are usually the sweet, adorable doll-figures of childhood.
Maggie Hinders, the curator of the show, is another of the five artists. She paints very strong canvases with blatant stripes, great splashes of color, and happy, almost abstract faces of small animals smiling at the viewer. Sometimes the bold yellow-and-black stripes can be read as the status quo of pets.
The opening was very crowded, mostly with the over-50 set. I saw people I knew from both senior centers. There was only one smallish group of people in their twenties or thirties; I thought that was unfortunate because the show would certainly have been of interest to anyone art-oriented over 15.
The show’s poster was by Justin Batten: five planetoids, each featuring the work of one of the artists, suspended in a dark sky over a moon.
“Worlds Seen and Unseen” was lively and thought-provoking, making it clear that there are worlds of imagination roiling inside us. It was set up so that, for the most part, no two paintings in a row were by the same artist. So in order to consider each artist, I had to photograph the show with my cell phone and go over it again afterward, looking at the works of each artist separately at my leisure and in repose. Only then could I grasp the entirety of any particular artist.