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Art People: Terry Rooney | painter, printmaker, curator



Thursday, August 07, 2014
This month at the Amherst Town Hall, tax inquiries and dog licenses come with free glimpses of heaven. Greeting visitors in the foyer and on stair landings is an exhibition of multimedia monoprints by Amherst artist Terry Rooney, which grew out of a several-year project in which she asked people: “What’s your idea of heaven on earth?”

“A Piece of Heaven” includes evocative expressionistic prints reflecting the answers she received, as well as cloud-printed paper sheets sharing the words of some of the responses. They range from “Having a baby,” “Being in a cottage at the National Seashore on the Cape,” “Feeling the sun on my face” and “Sitting by a babbling brook” to “An empty bladder,” this from a woman toting an enormous thermos of coffee.

At the opening of a previous show of “A Piece of Heaven,” a senior citizen approached Rooney to say, “You don’t have responses from older people.” So Rooney posed the question to her. “Time” was the answer, which is included in the Town Hall show.

On a recent tour of the exhibit Rooney said, “We make our own heavens, and they’re fluid; they change with time.” One of her own earlier “heavens” was “Lying by the fireplace, telling stories to my son.”

She said that people’s responses seemed like windows into their souls, but that she also learned a lot about herself in the process. “I lived vicariously through their ‘heavens’ and realized that there were many things that I take pleasure in that I may not have realized,” she said. “It focused me on the wonderful parts of life.”

She said the exhibition is a way of passing that along.

It’s a long-standing aim. In addition to her own work as a painter and printmaker, widely exhibited here and abroad, Rooney has been an active independent curator. A show of works on paper she has co-curated at the Deerfield Arts Bank in South Deerfield opens with a reception June 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. And as a longtime chair of the Amherst Public Art Commission, she created and produced the 2010 and 2012 Amherst Biennial exhibitions, which included installations at five museums, three colleges and 20 sites around Amherst. “I used spaces that were unexpected,” she said, “because I wanted to bring art into the lives of regular people.”

During that time Rooney obtained funding to make one of the biennial public art installations permanent. “The Portal,” a metal sculpture by Easthampton artist Matt Evald Johnson, will be dedicated in a ceremony June 15 at 11 a.m. in Amherst’s Kendrick Park.

Rooney’s “A Piece of Heaven” exhibit at the Town Hall, as well as an array at the Lord Jeffery Inn next door, marks a refocus on her own creative work after the all-consuming tasks of mounting the biennials. The monoprints, one-of-a-kind compositions, were created by painting in oil on a Plexiglas sheet, which is then run through a press. But the resulting print is only a starting point for Rooney, who has embellished the pieces variously with crayon, oil pastel and collage elements, often extending the image beyond the frame. “I’m a painter in my real life,” she said, “and I like to break the rules. One of the things I’ve learned as an artist is to be open to letting the piece speak to me — what does it want to be?”

— Bonnie Wells

“A Piece of Heaven” is on view through May 30 at the Amherst Town Hall.