“Expressions” exhibit shows artists’ daring and compels the viewer to interpret

by Priscilla Stevens

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Beth Brykman poses by a display case fi lled with her art. (Photo by Priscilla Stevens)

The latest Art at the Gleason exhibit, hanging from now until October 28, is entitled, “Expressions.” It features acrylic paintings by Randi Siu, black and white photography by Evan McGlinn, and alabaster and soapstone sculpture by Beth Brykman. What is particularly stimulating about this exhibit as a whole is its ability to pull viewers into the artists’ visions, and then push beyond them into visions personal to the viewers themselves.

Randi Siu’s paintings of positive energy

Randi Siu, of Carlisle, whose acrylic paintings leap off the walls with color and energy, says that she creates her work out of “instinct, and whatever I am feeling at the time. I don’t plan them… Four years ago I read a statement from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way that said that most of her friends were painters. I thought, ‘All of my friends are artists; I must be an artist too!’ I was so excited that I went out and bought supplies and created three paintings that day.”

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Artist Randi Siu with a painting from her “Asian Aspects” series. (Photo by Priscilla Stevens)

Making art takes “daring, trust and a real leap of faith,” she continues. Color has always been an integral part of the way Siu sees the world. In her 20s, she had an image consulting business, followed by an interior design business and experience in set design and painting. She has also been a pianist, flautist, choral director and choreographer, and the rhythm and dynamics of music also greatly influence her work.

Paintings from her “Asian Aspects” series in the Gleason exhibit depict sinewy, abstract dragons snaking their way across multiple canvases. They were inspired, Siu says, by her eight years’ residence in China and Hong Kong. Siu likes to begin with a “symbol [like the dragon] of positive energy. That way, my viewers and collectors can feel that positive ‘vibe,’ and let it guide their day. Sometimes I put it in the first layer of the painting, so that it doesn’t always show, but it’s there,” and it informs the whole composition of the piece.

In Asia, Siu watched a Chinese calligrapher at work and learned to meditate before the brush encounters the canvas, and the technique of broad, rapid strokes that form the backs and substance of the dragons. She added impressionistic “chops,” which are signatures and symbols used by Chinese calligraphers, merchants and others, and they call to mind the presence of people among the dragons. The bright colors, she says, “are deliberately designed from the colors often used together in China; here in the West, we wouldn’t necessarily join these hues,” but they complement the movement and energy of the dragons. “I included bronze metallic color as well,” she says, “to refer to the incense jars and other vessels that the Chinese use to honor their ancestors. Again, the presence of people across the years, here teamed with the symbol of the lucky dragons.”

Her latest series, “Appassionata,” features paintings named for the dynamic directions in music, and uses the heart as its prevailing symbol. Siu’s musical experience provides these paintings with a sense of rhythm, movement and color that, though vibrant, is perhaps more subtle than the Asian Aspects paintings. Here, she applies layers of color and daub-like brush strokes to hearts in an attempt to invoke emotions and instincts, laid over, and appearing to emerge from, the essential positive energy of the heart itself. Significantly, before hanging in the Gleason Library, some of these paintings appeared at the Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Beth Brykman creates by “listening” and “playing”

The idea of a composition emerging from something is fundamental to the artistic vision of Beth Brykman, whose sculptures also appear in the “Expressions” exhibit. When Brykman was a stay-at-home mom with small children, she had a studio in the basement of her house in New Jersey. Here, she would sculpt at one end of the room and her children and their friends would play at the other. Her children’s friends’ mothers told her that their children were reporting that she was “playing with rocks in the basement,” and wanted to know “what on earth they meant.”

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“Uncle Irv’s hand” (Photo by Marjorie Johnson)

They were right,” says Brykman. “I discovered sculpture by taking a class and was immediately hooked. I wanted to do something I could do at home while raising my children.” The hobby became a real avocation on the family’s next move to Connecticut, where, Brykman says, “I started using pneumatic tools and creating a lot of torsos and other large pieces. Some of them outweighed me, and they were really hard to move. Now, I confine myself to 85 pounds or less.”

At the DeCordova Museum, Brykman, who now lives in Sudbury, joined a class taught by Scott Cahaly, and formed a tight group of friends, built-in art critics, and colleagues that includes Betsy Constantine, who exhibited recently at the library, and that group still meets. “The teacher finds the locus,” she says, “and this keeps us all sculpting.”

She still “plays with rocks in the basement” in her Sudbury studio, which has a large slider door that provides natural light and connects her to the world outside. Her inspiration comes from the natural stone, “its interesting shapes, colors, and veins,” and she always leaves a portion of the stone rough, “so the viewer can understand where the carved images came from.”

“I just have to listen to the stone,” she says, “to understand the direction it will take. In the Gleason exhibit is a sculpture called “Uncle Irv’s Hand”. “This one, she says, “is an example. My husband actually had an Uncle Irv, who was a fisherman, and his hands always seemed that big to me. They looked exactly like the piece of alabaster I had.” The hand is rough, gnarled and arthritic, so the viewer can easily perceive its relationship to the hard resistance of stone, and is a hand stiffened by pulling ropes and nets and repairing boats.

“I like my sculpture to appear tactile,” she says.  The sweep of hair in “The Scholar,” which, again, seems to flow out of the rough stone, is, for example, wavy and sensual. “I’m discovering now that I’m moving more toward the abstract. Shapes are emerging that do not necessarily translate into representational objects, but to more impressionistic and abstract forms,” like movement and patterns that occur in nature. Such a piece is “Sand and Fog,” in which the flowing, erosive patterns of the ocean and sand are evident in the fog-colored stone.

Brykman also developed a writing career congruently with her career as a sculptor, “again so I could do something while raising kids at home.” This, too, arose out of “listening,” this time in a conversation that started and ended at a wedding. She was asked by another woman, “What do you do?” and when her reply was that she was a stay-at-home mom, the woman turned on her heel and walked away. Formerly a market researcher, Brykman turned this incident into a book called, The Wall Between Women, which explores the conflicting attitudes between and among career women and women who work part-time or as full-time mothers. “I always write about women,” she says. Her latest book, Second Wind, deals with the resilience of women through traumatic events in their lives and their ability to rebuild and improve themselves through these trials. “Women have,” she says, “an extraordinary ability to adapt and to reinvent themselves.” Certainly Brykman is a good example of the truth of this assertion.

Evan McGlinn focuses on catching the bigger, more difficult fish for the viewer’s interpretation

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In McGlinn’s photo “At Ground Zero,” a preacher warns of Doomsday. (Photo by Marjorie Johnson)

Evan McGlinn, of Carlisle, has been a professional journalist and photojournalist for 24 years. His first job was with International Data Group in Framingham. “I wanted to be a journalist so badly that I worked for free, just to get my foot in the door.” After earning several paid posts there, McGlinn went on to work for a large number of prestigious publications, ranging from the Boston Business Journal, to Forbes and the New York Times. During the course of his experience, he discovered that his real passion is for photography: “I’m a pretty social guy, and writing is very solitary. I found that photography gets me out among people. It’s a passport to do a lot of interesting things in interesting places.” Photography and journalism have taken him all over the world, to Russia, Costa Rica          and New Zealand, to name a few of the more exotic destinations. He also asserts that, “It gives you a chance to witness history. I covered the Republican primary in New Hampshire, for example, and my photo of Rick Santorum appeared on the front page of the [New York] Times.”

“I’m really obsessed with photography now,” he says. “I look at photographs all the time, study photographers’ work to learn from the greats that came before me…It’s a little like something else I like to do: fly fishing. You’re always after the bigger fish, or the more difficult fish to fool.”

McGlinn traveled to Paris in 2007 with his wife to participate in Peter Turnley’s “Streets of Paris” photographic workshop. “It was life-changing,” he says. “I spent ten days in the streets of Paris, just taking pictures and learning how to view the world in a different way. Peter teaches people how to lose their fear of photographing strangers. His view is that we’re capturing moments of history every day.”

Lately, McGlinn has been enjoying personal history by capturing his children on film. “That’s magic,” he says, “and everybody can do that. It’s so important to document their lives.”

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McGlinn captured a tornado survivor. (Photo by Marjorie Johnson)

There are two types of photographs, McGlinn says, “assignments and ‘found’ shots.” While shooting a wedding, for example, he “found” the photograph of two priests that appears in the library exhibit. The priests are wearing identical vestments and sitting together, but their facial expressions are completely different, and push the viewer to interpret the truth of the situation by imagining what each is thinking. There is a wry humor inherent in the piece that makes it a piquant portrait of an everyday celebration. His photograph of a man holding a Bible at Ground Zero in New York was shot while on assignment there, but captures a moment that forces a man in the foreground, and the viewer, to stop and reflect on the tragedy. A man in another photograph, who has a bandage on his arm and is gesturing as if to describe something, suggests a story relating to the injured arm and the blurred background of sticks, wood and rubble. McGlinn says this was a “found” moment. The man was explaining to him that he had been trapped in his cellar during the tornado that hit the Springfield area in June of last year. The pile of rubble in the background, is what was left of his house above the cellar.

There is more out there for McGlinn to help us interpret, however. His next photojournalism assignment, coming up soon, “is perhaps the biggest assignment of my life. I’m going on a research vessel off Orleans (Cape Cod) to photograph the tagging of Great White Sharks. The scientists will be tagging them with radio beacons on their dorsal fins. The beacons switch on as soon as the dorsal fin [sounds] and allows the scientists to track the migration of these animals for six years.” When asked about the danger of the assignment, assuming that a 20-foot shark is likely to resist this process, McGlinn was utterly undeterred. “They tire them out with flotation barrels, hoist them onto a platform next to the vessel, pump sea water into their gills, put on the tag, and then the sharks just swim away.” It looks like Evan McGlinn is going after that bigger fish again.

The community is invited to a reception to meet these fascinating artists, with refreshments provided by the Friends, on Saturday, September 15, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at Gleason Public Library.     ∆