Pat Adams at the Bennington Museum – A First Glimpse

Paintings by Pat Adams

Gatherum of Quiddities:

April 1 through June 18

“For sixty years Pat  Adams has approached painting with an empiricist’s concern for the nature of visual form and the intimist’s sensibility that addresses the layered complexity of being.  With abstract paintings characterized by seductive colors and richly encrusted surfaces, Pat seeks to bring from her “gatherum of quiddities” – that stew of unnamed qualities – a visual situation that bestirs contemplation.”

Pat Adams (b. 1928), That is to Say, 2010, oil, isobutyl methacrylate, pencil and crayon on paper mounted to panel, 19 x 24 inches, courtesy of the artist

Pat Adams (b. 1928), That is to Say, 2010, oil, isobutyl methacrylate, pencil and crayon on paper mounted to panel, 19 x 24 inches, courtesy of the artist


From 1973 through 1976 Pat Adams was my professor at Bennington College. Pat already had 20 years of experience as a serious artist, showing in New York and collected by museums. The “landscape” for women artists was not an open one. The art world was both smaller and fairly closed to women. Things were changing, but most advances were hard won. I’m not really prepared to talk about what Pat was up against. All I can tell you is that until the 1980s, I believe, only two women had had a one person shows at the Guggenheim — Helen Frankenthaler and Helen Frankenthaler.

Seeing Pat’s paintings today I wonder why I didn’t know them better; why I wasn’t more aware of what she was thinking; what her process was; what battles she was waging on canvas. This retrospective at The Bennington Museum gave me a chance to experience her work and also see some of her materials: things she was looking at, tiny drawings she compiled endlessly in her notebooks. It was a revelation.

It was the opening night and not the best opportunity to take in the work, but at the end of the evening, when the rooms emptied, I had a moment to look closely at some of the pieces with the director of the museum, Robert Wolterstorff. I was struck by how my eyes were pulled around the canvas, how I flet moments of speed and slowness, of agitation and rest, of chaos and precision — like I was entering the universe. I wondered at the surfaces. How she achieved tiny irregularly shaped dots in a grid, how she painted a curved line that was at once as precise as a calligrapher’s curve, and yet broken in spots revealing the paint surface beneath. There was something so illogical about this line, so confounding, I couldn’t figure out how it was made.

When I was able to speak briefly with Pat during the show, she told me that some of the marks on the canvas were achieved by a kind of printing or transfer process. Painting on mylar and “stamping” it onto the canvas. But I didn’t get a chance to ask her about the lines.

Pat’s paintings are full of texture and unusual materials, mica, sand, pigment, and other minerals. Wolterstorff was most taken by this aspect of the work, which made him think of both Keifer’s straw and Beuys’ lard and felt. I forgot to mention to him that there was a Beuys exhibition at the college in the 1970s.

As we looked at the paintings, the rigor of the composition struck both of us. To me, they felt like mathematical journeys. Jamie Franklin, the curator, had displayed some things that Pat had pulled elements from — postcards of a Gothic Cathedral, the composition of an old Master painting, the shape of a sliced geode. All of these were echoed in the work.

Pat Adams' Notebook

Pat Adams’ Notebook

I believe that in the misogynistic days of the 1970s, these elements were at times dismissed as decorative. Seeing them now I know that they were no more decorative than the letters of a formula. What, after all, can be eliminated from E = mc 2 .

Pat Adams

Pat Adams


If you go:

Bennington Museum

75 Main Street
Bennington, VT 05201-2885
(802) 447-1571

June through October:
Open daily 10 am to 5 pm
Closed July 4

November through May:
Open Thursday through Tuesday (closed Wednesday)
Closed month of January, Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day
Closes at 1 pm on December 24 and 31

A catalog will be available. Call the Museum Store 802-447-1571 to order.








Having Sex with Artists

A couple of weeks ago I dreamed that I had sex with Frank Stella under a boardwalk on Fire Island. We were both young. When I was the age I was in the dream I did this painting — clearly the “love” child of our astral meeting:

Leslie Parke Primary One

Leslie Parke, “Primary One”, oil on canvas.


Last night I dreamed that Anish Kapoor was courting me. It was all quite elaborate. I can’t wait to see how this will show up in my work. Harold Bloom would call this the “anxiety of influence”, I call it “having sex with artists.”



The Aurora Borealis in a Zip Lock Bag — Essay about Leslie Parke’s New Paintings by Christopher Millis

Little do I remember of the astronomy lecture I attended twenty some years ago on a warm summer night in an observatory on what may be the last densely wooded tract of land in Cambridge. What I do remember is that the lecture put me in a kind of swoon. For the first time in my life, science and poetry became one. Somehow a talk on chaos theory and its relation to the order of the universe – randomness as the predictable and necessary precursor to design – had the heft and elegance and perspicacity of a poem you want to memorize or a painting you don’t want to leave.


Leslie Parke, “Road Work”, 56 inches x 43.5 inches, oil on canvas, 2014. Photo Credit: Jon Barber


Leslie Parke’s paintings live at the same intersection where patterns court chaos, abstraction approaches the figurative and stasis hovers on the cusp of implosion. Her paintings are charged by contradictions: impersonal grids softened by sunlight; watery washes with metallic spikes; a cathedral of squiggles above a perfectly triangular black hole; the aurora borealis in a zip lock bag.


Leslie Parke, “Silo”, 46 inches x 96 inches, oil on canvas, 2014.


But even contradictions are connected by themes, and what’s most striking across these disparate, spirited works is their relentless energy. This is a painter who thrashes in her sleep. And it is not merely high-powered kinesis that comes through so much as the integration of movement, color and form. It is no coincidence that the lines of “Silo” shift from vertical on the left half of the diptych to horizontal on the right; those same lines correspond with the play of light – muted to the left, increasingly luminous as the eye moves right. For all that it initially appears purely cerebral – the meticulous study of an industrial grid – the painting as a whole achieves the thrilling solace of a sunrise.


As with many artists at their performance peaks, Parke’s recent paintings seem deceptively effortless. They’re not. Go back to them; they have a lot to say.

Christopher Millis

Cambridge, MA

Christopher Millis’ criticism has appeared extensively in such publications as Art News, Artspeak, The Black American and The Boston Phoenix as well as on National Public Radio. He is the former editor of artsMEDIA Magazine in Boston.

Christopher Millis‘s writing has been published, produced and broadcast widely in the United States and Europe for the last twenty years. He has authored three books of poetry: The Handsome Shackles (2002,) Impossible Mirrors (1994,) and The Diary of the Delphic Oracle (1991,) and his poems have been featured in numerous magazines and anthologies. In 1994, his translations of the Triestine poet Umberto Saba appeared as The Dark of the Sun (University Press of America,) and the first of his acclaimed translations of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, “Requiem for Mohammed Al-Dura,” was published in The London Review of Books in 2000. His translation of Darwish’s “I Remember al-Sayyab” appeared in 2004 in The London Review of Books, The Daily Star, and The International Herald Tribune.

In 1979, Millis was commissioned by the Theater of the Open Eye in New York to write the libretto for Jean Erdman‘s dance opera The Shining House, a collaboration with Michael Czajkowski, Paul Jenkins and Ralph Lee. The Shining House established itself as part of the repertoire of Jean Erdman and Joseph Campbell’s Theater of The Open Eye with productions until 1984. The following year, Poems for the End of the World (1985,) choreographed by June Anderson, appeared at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio. Millis collaborated with Anderson and David Leisner on The Magnetic Properties of Moonlight at New York ‘s Dance Theater Workshop in 1986.

Millis’s one-man autobiographical play Garbage Boy, directed by Ashley Lieberman, premiered to critical acclaim in Cambridge Mass. in 2004 and was included in the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival


The Print Project: First Meeting with Tim Shesley at Corridor Press

Tim Sheesley

Tim Sheesley at Corridor Press


After spending the night at the home of artist Ashley Cooper and her family in the surprisingly beautiful Cooperstown, New York, I headed over to the rolling hills of Otego to meet with Tim Sheesley at Corridor Press.

Tim  showed me samples of other artist’s work to give me some ideas of how I might use the medium in my own work.  I was thinking a lot about this myself.  The research I have been doing over the last weeks not only into lithography, but also other forms of print making, made me think how I might best use the medium to expand what I was doing in paint. But until I get my hands dirty, I am not really going to know what will work best for me.


Sondra Freckelton copyright © Sondra Freckelton, 2009, “Braid and Tea Pot “, original lithograph from stone and plates paper size: 11.25″x13” printed in an edition of 42,   paper Rives BFK white


I am especially interested in the ways I can use print making to explore the use of color in my work. There are two ways of going about this (I am sure there are more, but these are the ways that most interest me at the moment). One is to use what printers call “process” color. That is to break down the image into CMYK – cyan, yellow, magenta and black. This is also the way the color is broken down to make a straight forward reproduction of a piece.  When an artist uses this method of separation, its a little like math for artists, as they have to think about the layering of colors to achieve a full color variation.

The other way to approach the print is to pull particular colors from the original and lay them down distinctly, one next to the other. There can be some mixing, of course. But since you may not have the elements of a color wheel — red, yellow, blue — but colors like umber, lavender and ocher, it is far more likely that you would lay them down next to each other and not over each other.

I love seeing how artists use lithographs and all the variations involved:  the type of plate, the quality of ink, color of paper, and the drawing medium.

Here is a video of Tim showing me how Sondra Freckelton produced the print pictured above.  I took the video without looking through the camera, so that Tim wouldn’t think about it while talking to me. Please forgive the occasional missing head.  Video of Tim Sheesley.

You can check out the prints of the artists featured here at Tim’s website: Corridor Press.

Books of interest:

Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at

Zen and the Art of Boxing

Leslie Parke, "Punch", oil on canvas

                               Leslie Parke, “Punch”, oil on canvas


Legendary boxing trainer, Cus d’Amato’s favorite book was Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. It was given to him by Norman Mailer. He immediately incorporated what he learned from it into his teaching without mentioning either Zen or archery.

There was one young fighter in Cus’ gym who Cus referred to as “the master” — and it wasn’t Mike Tyson. This kid always knew where the other fighter was, and Cus said that if you can see where a punch is coming from, it won’t knock you out. Watching this kid move deftly about the ring, you sensed that Cus’ assessment was right.

Cus also believed that a “master” no matter what their discipline, could teach you effectively. And Cus was willing to learn from anyone if he felt this about them.

One day a man came to his gym — I am not sure if he came on his own or if someone brought him. Allegedly, he had been able to increase the speed of even the dullest race horse. Cus asked him how he did it. Evidently, he studied, the movements of the best race horses in slow motion and broke the movements down into their component parts. He then slowed the whole process down to a walk. He worked with his horse to imitate these movements at a very slow pace. Once he the horse could imitate them perfectly at the slowest pace, be increased the pace ever so slightly. He repeated this until the horse was at full speed and racing well beyond his original capacity.

Cus thought about this and figured out how he might apply it to his fighters. He took a mattress and wrapped it around a pole. Then he put numbers on the mattress where a fighter would land each punch. So for example, a jab was number one and placed where the face would be, upper-cut – two and at the chin, heart punch, liver punch, etc. I believe he marked 7 spots on the mattress. Then Cus recorded himself calling out these numbers in various combinations to make a three punch combination– VERY SLOWLY. He would do this for three minutes, the length of a round. A fighter would then very slowly land all these punches in the correct manner with Cus watching. Once he had mastered it through endless repetition, he would move on to the next level.

With each level, Cus increased the speed and also increased the number of punches in the combination. The highest level was so fast you could hardly distinguish the numbers that he called and the combination included seven punches all over the body. Each time the sequence of the combination changed so that it would not be predictable.

Early in Tyson’s career, he was known for the speed of his combinations. Well, now you know why. If you go back and look at these fights, you can sometimes hear numbers being called out either from the corner or the audience — those were coming from other fighters from the gym.


The Generous Janet Fish

You know when there is a painter you really love, where everything about their work excites you and you go in the studio and spend all your time trying to avoid that person’s work? Well, for a long time I felt that way about Janet Fish, especially when I first started painting representationally. One day I decided that the only way to find out what my painting was about was to try to make the most Fishesque paintings that I could. So, first, just in case you are not familiar, let me show you her work.

Janet Fish, "Green Glass from Alexis"

Janet Fish, “Green Glass from Alexis”

Janet Fish, "Tulips"

Janet Fish, “Tulips”

Janet Fish

Janet Fish

Janet Fish

Janet Fish

Janet Fish

Janet Fish

Janet Fish has two studios, one in New York and one in Vermont. Several years ago she built a new studio in Vermont, which made it possible for her to have a painting space that faced east and one that faced west. As I understand it, during the morning light she paints in the east studio and in the afternoon she paints in the west studio. She works almost entirely from life, and not only does she chase the morning and afternoon light, she also chases the light around her canvas, painting each section when the light on that  item looks best. So, the light in her paintings do not represent one moment, but time passing.

She takes a long time to set up her still lifes. Her studio is filled with props that she organizes chromatically on bookshelves.

Fish is known for her highly chromatic paintings, her reflective surfaces, her painting of glass and other transparent substances such as plastic, as well as, a space fully populated with objects. There is frequently an underlying reference or narrative that is personal. She sometimes includes friends and neighbors in her paintings, and even many of the objects are things that her friends lend her. But her paintings are also about formal issues of color, light and composition.

When I set about to do a Fishesque painting, I put together objects that I saw in her paintings, such as shells, then things that reflected light, such as fabric that changes its sheen as the light changes; ribbons; anything that sparkled, was transparent or translucent. This is what I came up with:

Leslie Parke, "About This Table", oil on canvas

Leslie Parke, “About This Table”, oil on canvas

Leslie Parke, "All that Glitters", oil on linen

Leslie Parke, “All that Glitters”, oil on linen

Leslie Parke, "Still Life with High Heels", oil on linen

Leslie Parke, “Still Life with High Heels”, oil on linen

So, what did I learn? I tend not to work with high key colors. I am more interested in the light of a particular moment.  I  like  to try to paint the unpaintable — things that glitter, shine and reflect light; things that are transparent or translucent. For me, I think that light is a stronger draw than color. With Janet Fish as my guide, I learned to be fearless in my choice of objects and to see the objects for the visual qualities they brought to the painting, not for their “meaning”. The lessons of these paintings have served me well. I have been able to bring more of me to my new still lifes and less of Janet. And as I was able to distinguish what it was about her paintings that really resonated with me, I was able to distill that which was mine and find more of that in the world to paint.

Leslie Parke, "Avalanche", oil on linen

Leslie Parke, “Avalanche”, oil on linen

Leslie Parke, "Compacted", oil on linen

Leslie Parke, “Compacted”, oil on linen

Leslie Parke, "Recycled Bottles", oil on linen

Leslie Parke, “Recycled Bottles”, oil on linen

One final note: I have a friend, Lynn, who is a very close friend of Janet’s and one day she asked me if I would like to go to our favorite import store in Rutland with Janet. Lynn and I had been often to this store and one time I bought a pair of Indonesian dolls that seemed very Fishesque to me. I tried painting them, but they resisted me. Something about them was too “Fishy”. When we were at the store I found another set of these dolls and I showed them to Janet. I told her that I thought she might like them. She did.

Janet Fish, "Sequins", detail

Janet Fish, “Sequins”, detail

Books of Interest:

Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at

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