Quick Bit by Hilary Irons
Installation view, “Kathy Butterly, Lynne Drexler, Marley Freeman,” Karma, Maine. On view through September 3, 2023. Photo courtesy of Karma.
The architecture of a church—the ecclesiastical angles of high vaulted ceilings, windows that are sited to let in the light with spiritual precision, generous space for voiceless breathing—leads its visitors to an almost involuntary sense of quiet contemplation, regardless of belief. At 70 Main Street in Thomaston, Maine, a deconsecrated Catholic church owned by painter Ann Craven has become the summer home of the New York-based Karma gallery. The third annual exhibition held in the space is entitled “Kathy Butterly, Lynne Drexler, Marley Freeman,” named for the three artists—all with some tie to Maine—whose use of color shatters this silence with a brilliant sense of cacophony.
Installation view, “Kathy Butterly, Lynne Drexler, Marley Freeman,” Karma, Maine. (left) Lynne Drexler, Vase Formality, 1990. Oil on canvas. 18″ × 2″. (right) Marley Freeman, xeroxing is as, 2023. Fused glass. 29 ⅜″ × 19 ⅛″. On view through September 3, 2023. Photo courtesy of Karma.
Most directly, the work of Marley Freeman slots into the church’s architecture in the form of stained glass. Made specifically for the space, the pieces hold the hushed light of a wet summer with amplified warmth and force. The rectangular, abstract compositions, held in sheets of fused pieces of colored glass, are directly mounted to the space’s windows, creating a small but potent microclimate of color around each piece. Like stations of the cross, these works ask for the physicality of movement around the room. ice glistens (fused glass, 2023), more tightly installed than the rest, is set in a corner with colored light spilling from the glass to the window frame like an alarm bell.
Kathy Butterly carries this sense of elegant dissonance into her ceramic pieces. Each piece is small, a distorted vessel mounted on a stern cube; the decadence of ornamentation and color is allowed to be as beautiful as can be while simultaneously denying a drive toward the decorative. In Crossroads (clay, glaze, fire brick, 2020), a voluptuously collapsing, glossy pink-and-white vessel stands atop a tiny plinth that presents itself like a forgotten piece of toast. Loose, open rectangular shapes, bright orange and black, droop from the vessel’s sides without quite touching the shelf beneath. Butterly’s work, fired multiple times to create a palimpsest of color and surface, shows how tension and release can be best experienced all at once.
Finally, the work of the late Lynne Drexler brings pictorialism into conversation with the more abstract sculptural work of Freeman and Butterly. The painter’s work is coming into new focus since her death in 1999, and the work at 70 Main Street exemplifies her fearless use of simultaneous contrast to create rattling, destabilizing color conversations housed in the form of still-lives and landscapes. Pumpkins, gourds, and a vase of bittersweet berries evade the homely potential of their subject matter to assume the form of a transfigured moment of psychic revelation in Organic Orange (oil on board, 1987). Dull mauve and light-sucking cobalt are surrounded and countered by the noisiest and most joyfully invasive orange dots to ever stage an incursion on a still-life.
In “Kathy Butterly, Lynne Drexler, Marley Freeman,” color’s refusal to be ignored subverts the silence of the church and the white light of this summer’s many rainy days.
“Kathy Butterly, Lynne Drexler, Marley Freeman” is on view through September 3, 2023 Karma Gallery, located at 70 Main Street, Thomaston, Maine.
Hilary Irons is a Maine-based painter and curator. She is Gallery and Exhibitions Director at the University of New England, and is represented by Dowling Walsh Gallery. She received an MFA from the Yale School of Art in ’08 and a BFA from Parsons School of Design in ’02, and has attended residencies at the Albers Foundation, Skowhegan, MacDowell, the American Academy in Rome, the Pace House, Hewnoaks, the Canterbury Shaker Village, and the Surf Point Foundation. She has written for The Chart, Art New England, Maine Magazine, and other publications.