Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hudson River Art Updated and Ongoing

The Hudson Valley, up where it meets the broad shoulders of New York's Adirondack Mountains, is as calm and golden on a summer weekend as ever it was in one of the paintings by the artists of the Hudson River School - here View of the Hudson River by Seth Eastman (1834). In between lakes and mountain shadows old family motels with nostalgic clusters of cabins line the roads, little Norman Rockwell vignettes of 1950's togetherness that are a bit sad to see, but mostly still open for business. I was up that way there for the timeless pleasure of great music - in this case the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center - and by the luckiest of chances also met a most interesting contemporary artist. Bruno LaVerdiere is deeply rooted in the Adirondacks - the great and mighty Hudson runs near his home, though at that point it's a surprisingly tame and burbling stream - but he got there by way of a childhood in Maine, a Benedictine monastery in the Pacific Northwest, a few years in New York City, and an impressive career teaching and working in the US and Europe. Over the course of 30 years he turned a summer cabin into a comfortable compound of art and life, where the view from all corners is trees, trees, trees -  until you swing round to a clear miles-long view of a broad blue sky and a favorite mountain. Before the house the first glimpse of Bruno's work came bit by bit along his private dirt road, standing ceramic forms spotted amid the ferns and wild greenery. Tomb forms, he says they are, a series inspired by a local graveyard after he moved up into this quiet corner from New York City. The history of a rich artistic life continues in his studio, a sprawling custom built structure with plenty of room for new and old work, and all the cool tools a gadget-loving artist would ever need. A huge car kiln sits behind the studio like a dormant Fire God, resting patiently while these days Bruno is busy with painting. He says he has discovered color after a long love affair with black and white, and he appears to be having a great time. He's one of those artists who makes it all work, makes it significant no matter how casual the effort - the standing ceramic forms, slashed and pummeled into iconic, compelling shapes, the huge inky abstract drawings, the series of simple, single cats, the latest colorful encaustic explorations founded on a geometric house diagram, and a huge ceramic horn hanging on the porch, ready for all to try their luck. Thank you, Bruno, for homemade yogurt with homegrown blueberries, for a refuge from bats, and especially for the art, the laughter, and all the great stories.