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Red Door Gallery: Microcosms

Betsy Stewart, Bioverse no. 2, 84”x48”
Acrylic and sumi ink on canvas

(picture found here)


Bogart, Desert Song
oil and rustoleum on canvas

(picture found here)

The Red Door Gallery in uptown Richmond recently closed their show Microcosms featuring the paintings of Steven Bogart and Betsy Stewart. As a former intern, I was able to more fully appreciate the pieces because I know the work that goes into curating and selling the pieces. Additionally, having seen some of the works before they were publicly displayed made me feel more connected to the works-if I had come in to the show as a complete outsider, I would not have had such strong personal ties and memories to these stunning paintings. Just like the theme of the show, having some familiarity with the inner workings of Red Door allowed me to live within the gallery’s microcosm. I knew firsthand the painstaking effort that goes into displaying and arranging the pieces auspiciously.

Consistent with the show’s objective, the little details become a world of their own when preparing pieces for a show: if there are multiple artists, the work that goes into making this a harmonious arrangement is very difficult. And then there is the importance of choosing whose work to display exactly where: it is crucial to give equal importance to all the pieces of the show and ensure that none of them are missed or tucked away in a dark corner where nobody will appreciate the work.  The curator expertly faced these challenges and has an excellent show to add to Red Door’s list.

The paintings never failed to impress me: even though I had seen some of the works outside of the show, when they were displayed together, they effectively illustrated the concept of a microcosm. Steven Bogart’s oil and rustoleum paintings are simultaneously visceral and kinetic. The undulating and gossamer strands which connect to rounded forms strike me as somehow grotesque because they conjure up visions of petri dish samples under a microscope. His mastery of color enhances the kinetic qualities of his paintings: they pulse. “Suite” resembles a sneeze, while “Desert Song” makes the viewer feel like Howard Hughes imagining the bacteria crawling across a canvas. “Strange Attractors”, with its lush oval forms dotted with pink, could be interpreted as sexual, but the pastel blue background makes it more jarring and powerful by evoking a nursery setting and in doing so, makes a great statement about conception.

Betsy Stewart’s paintings are completely opposite: her acrylic and sumi ink paintings are less strident. Instead of bacteria and sperm, I was reminded of chloroplasts from biology. Her paintings are smoother and feature organic forms, the colors are from the same family and predominantly shades of green. The shapes are less aggressive and resemble batik prints at times.  “Bioverse no.2” makes recognizable and ordinary forms found in science books look beautiful and ethereal. Instead of a taking a clinical approach to nature, Stewart successfully marries science and beauty in these paintings, which is why some of them recently sold to a successful green chemistry firm. Her “Fontis Cubes” reiterate this theme of science and beauty in harmony: on the main face of the cubes, the paintings are similar to motifs featured in “Bioverse no. 2”, but the sides of the cubes reveal simple geometric forms in contrasting color, evocative of Mondrian. The juxtaposition of sensuous, silky, rounded forms in greens with neutral rectangles and lines against hard, flat wood is striking.

The show was excellent in choosing to feature these two artists’ works together and aptly titled it. Although the works were completely different, they complemented each other tremendously and reminded the viewer to consider the scope of the world and appreciate the beauty inherent in science and nature. I left the show with a newfound sense of my relative size on the planet, since I am one of billions, but to the most tiny organism, I would be massive and my impact upon it could be godlike. Yet we are powerless and small also, beholden to forces we will never be able to control. And the most miniscule organisms are capable of wiping us out, whether it comes in the form of Ebola or E. Coli. The rebellions in Libya are showing the power of the masses, the small people, who become formidable when numbers increase. Microcosmsraised interesting questions for me and reminded me why I love art and miss my work at the gallery.