Through Oct. 30 ‘Drift’ by Betsy Stirratt, currently on exhibit at Ruschman The most compelling art challenges both viewer and maker; only the artist knows when he or she is simply developing a particular focus or remaining stuck. Bloomington-based artist Betsy Stirratt seems to have struck a perfect balance between the two — that is, moving beyond a previous stylistic concern and yet staying within her own recognizable aesthetic. Stirratt’s work reveals the artist’s well-developed voice and the artist’s talent for exploring new lines of aesthetic thought.
Then again, perhaps “thought” is the wrong word here. Stirratt’s work may be intellectual, but what makes her most recent collection of paintings — on view at Ruschman Gallery — so lovely to behold are the feeling tones that are such fine expressions of Stirratt’s broad but contained palette. Stirratt’s work is almost easily identifiable for its rendering of a central iconographic object painted as if to float on the canvas or other surface (in the current case, Stirratt’s paintings are oil on panel). The central image is sometimes reflected in other, more subtle images that complement the central one. Here, Stirratt has moved from a more metallic palette to saturated cotton candy colors.
Looking around the Ruschman space where Stirratt’s work hangs, a rectangular room without dividers, it’s like gazing into a sea of pleasantness. The colors are both lively and pacifying from a distance; up close, they’re more complex. This complexity — the combination of classically inspired imagery (painstakingly detailed flower buds, for instance) set upon a cascading backdrop of tangerine, electric blue, cherry red, spring green, lollipop purple, or lemon yellow — creates a more light-hearted tone than we’re used to seeing from Stirratt. And yet it’s no less rigorous.
Certainly there’s a sense here that each image Stirratt commits to canvas is a deliberate one, from the shadowy outline of a fleur de lis to what look like tiny seed pods or stars. An even more curious addition, Stirratt lays down in many of her paintings small clusters of pointillist dabs, as if to suggest tiny windows that look upon pixilated images blown up beyond recognition. Are these clues or simply aesthetic caprices? Either way, they move Stirratt’s paintings far beyond the parlor room and into an equally thought-provoking and delight-inspiring place. Titles such as “Aura,” “Soar,” “Cumulus,” “Ember,” “Haze” and “Sea” suggest a beyondness that could either be simply referential or symbolically suggestive, or perhaps the artist is open to both. Certainly, the viewer can borrow from his or her own psyche to glean deeper meanings. But in the presence of such loveliness, it may not be necessary. The exhibition title, Elements, certainly suggests the core of things, the urgent beginnings of creative expression on the one hand and the eternal blessings of earth, air and fire on the other. Stirratt lifts these basic elements into the space of heady and yet emotionally expressive visual interpretation.
Elements, a body of new paintings by Betsy Stirratt, is on view at Ruschman Art Gallery through Oct. 30. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11-5. Call 634-3114 or visit www.ruschmangallery.com for more information.