Art, demystified: ‘Pictures at an exhibition’ features TV interviews with artists in Amherst

  • Constance Hamilton talks about her exhibit at Gallery A3 in Amherst as she’s filmed for the Amherst Media program “Pictures at an Exhibition.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Eric Broudy, left, producer and director of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” and camerman Larry Rankin film an interview conducted by Eva Fierst with artist Constance Hamilton, far right, in Amherst’s Gallery A3. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • At Gallery A3 in Amherst, Larry Rankin films an interview led by Eva Fierst, in center, with artist Constance Hamilton, at far left. Eric Broudy, producer/director of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” is at far right. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • At Gallery A3 in Amherst, Larry Rankin films an interview led by Eva Fierst, in center, with artist Constance Hamilton, at far left. Eric Broudy, producer/director of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” is at far right. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The oil painting “Deep Water, Deep Sky” is one of Constance Hamilton’s works currently on exhibit at Gallery A3 in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Constance Hamilton talks about her work at Gallery A3 in Amherst as she’s filmed for the Amherst Media program “Pictures at an Exhibition.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Artist Constance Hamilton says she was “absolutely thrilled” to be filmed at her exhibit at Gallery A3 in Amherst for the Amherst Media program “Pictures at an Exhibition.”  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The oil painting “The Swan by the Ocean” is part of Constance Hamilton’s exhibit at Amherst’s Gallery A3, which is inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/12/2020 8:32:12 AM
Modified: 3/12/2020 8:31:59 AM

Do you shy away from going to art exhibits, especially those that feature abstract or contemporary art, because you’re not sure what you’re looking at or what the artist is trying to convey? Is it perhaps a case of feeling intimidated — being afraid you’ll be looked down on for not understanding or appreciating what others do?

If so, “Pictures at an Exhibition” might be your ticket, a half-hour program that airs on Amherst Media and features monthly interviews with artists who are displaying their work in Amherst. And Eric Broudy, a photographer who conceived of and now directs the program, says “Pictures at an Exhibition” is also designed to boost attendance at local shows and bring some more attention to local and regional artists.

“There are a lot of talented artists in the area, but it can be hard for them to get the word out about their work,” said Broudy, a member of Gallery A3, the artists’ cooperative, in Amherst and the former chair of the Amherst Public Art Commission. “This is a way to introduce some of these people and show their work to a wider audience, and do it in timely way, so people have time to come see the exhibits.”

At the same time, he added, “We want to demystify contemporary art for the average person, just give a basic explanation, in an artist’s own words, on what they’re doing with their work and what they’re thinking.”

The program, begun late last year, has now compiled interviews with nine artists — oil, acrylic and pastel painters, photographers, and some mixed-media stylists — each 15 minutes long; two of those interviews are paired each month into a half-hour program on Amherst Media. Broudy says the goal is to cover work in a dozen galleries and exhibit spaces in town, from Amherst Town Hall to galleries at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to those at the Jones Library.

“Scheduling all this has been a real challenge,” Broudy added with a wry smile. “But the idea is to showcase the range of art and the places you can see it in Amherst.

“Pictures at an Exhibition” is also very much a DIY effort. Though Amherst Media provides a video camera for the artist interviews, and also lends use of its computers for editing those talks, the “crew” behind the program is made up entirely of volunteers. Broudy, who schedules all the interviews, has enlisted a fellow photographer and Galley A3 member, Larry Rankin, to handle the filming, and Eva Fierst and Betsy Stone to do the artist interviews.

Fierst, the former education curator at the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst, also co-manages the Valley’s ArtSalon, a periodic public event at which multiple artists make short presentations about their latest work. Stone, a multi-disciplinary artist from Northampton, also co-manages the ArtSalon.

On a recent afternoon, Fierst, Rankin and Broudy came to Gallery A3 to put together the newest installment of “Pictures at an Exhibition”: an interview with abstract painter Constance Hamilton of Amherst, who has a show up this month called “Searching for the Feathers of Icarus.” It’s a mix of oil paintings, prints and fabric art inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus, the father and son who escaped from an island prison on wings Daedalus built for both of them — only to have Icarus ignore his father’s warning and fly too close to the sun, which melted the wax sealing his wings and caused him to plummet into the sea.

Fierst joked that when Broudy first contacted her about conducting interviews for the series, she wasn’t too keen. “I told Eric, ‘I’m retired,’” she said with a laugh. “I don’t think I want to do all this other work.”

But she eventually saw the value in the project and then roped in Betsy Stone, a good friend, to split interview duties with her. Fierst says she remains intrigued by the extent of art in the Valley and now, before conducting an interview, she visits an exhibit, then talks on the phone with the artist before doing the live talk.

“I just want to get a feel for the person, get a sense of how we’d like to talk about [the art] and what approach would be best,” she said.

Talking it through

At Gallery A3, there were a few stops and starts as filming of Hamilton’s exhibit got underway. Rankin wanted to reposition Fierst and Hamilton as they stood by “Deep Water, Deep Sky,” a large abstract painting that would be the first artwork discussed. He counted down from 5 to 1 and then Fierst, looking at the camera, introduced herself and “Pictures at and Exhibition” and turned to Hamilton.

“OK, let’s do that again,” said Rankin as he paused the camera; he suggested a slightly different delivery for Fierst and advised her on when to turn to face Hamilton.

Though he’s an experienced photographer who’s exhibited his work at Gallery A3 and numerous other places, Rankin said he’s a relative newbie with a video camera. “I’m still learning,” he said, noting the process as a whole for putting the videos together has steadily gotten smoother over the past few months.

And as the interview ranged to other work in Hamilton’s show, the idea of having an artist explain his or her work became clearer. For instance, Hamilton said her exhibit explored not just the theme of Icarus’ tragic death but its aftermath: What did Daedalus do afterward, she wondered? Did he search the sea for his son’s fallen feathers, for instance? How did he deal with his grief?

As such, one of her works, “The Sail,” consists of a dark, foreboding painting, an irregular quadrilateral on India Leaf canvas that is strung between two wooden arms forming an upside-down L. “How could you have an exhibit inspired by Daedalus and not have a sail?” said Hamilton, who added that she imagined Daedalus scouring a stormy sea as he hunted for any trace of his son.

And Fierst, pausing beside another of Hamilton’s works, “The Labyrinth,” asked the artist how the painting came about (it depicts a number of geometric shapes, including a labyrinth, or maze-like structure).

“I was beginning a series of geometric abstractions ... and the labyrinth just appeared on its own,” said Hamilton. “For a long time, I didn’t know what to think of it.”

Eventually, she noted, it began to resonate as part of the story of Daedalus and Icarus, given their legend also involves Daedalus, a skilled architect, building a labyrinth for King Minos of Crete to imprison the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull creature.

“I trust my intuition a lot when I’m working, and I let things happen,” Hamilton explained.

Broudy said only one artist he’s approached so far has declined to be interviewed, and Hamilton pronounced herself “absolutely thrilled” to take part in her talk.

“I hope people will watch this and come to the show,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful idea on Eric’s part.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

“Searching for the Feathers of Icarus” by Constance Hamilton will be on view at Gallery A3 in Amherst through March 28. Through March, her interview can be seen by Amherst residents on Amherst Media on Fridays at 8 p.m. and Mondays at 9 a.m. Interviews with Hamilton and other artists who are part of “Pictures at an Exhibition” can be also be viewed by anyone at amherstmedia.org/content/pictures-exhibition.


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