Gridley solo exhibition ‘A Few True Things’ on display at Edgewater this month

MIDDLEBURY — American philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “Creativity is discontent translated into arts.” When asked if she agreed with this statement, Middlebury artist Kate Gridley contends that it is not so much about discontent for her, as much as it is about how she translates questions into her art.
For some people, creating art is an outlet, an opportunity to escape from reality. For other artists, it can be a statement or a message, a way to express their opinion about what is going on around them. However, for Gridley, her paintings are about searching for answers to a never-ending stream of questions. She questions everything and every answer leads to yet another question.
“I have to say for the first time in my life I am very preoccupied with what I consider to be the difficult political situation in our country right now. I keep wondering, given how complicated things are, ‘Does my work help?’ ‘Does it encourage?’ ‘Does it inform?’ ‘Does it create questions?’”
She ponders, “If we got to a place where there truly was deeper censorship and people were rounded up for their beliefs, could I use my art as a means of communicating my message? What I really think; disguised symbolism.”
Gridley is a very thoughtful painter. She does not paint just for the sake of making art. Each body of work she creates is deeply meaningful and her exquisitely detailed realism paintings are part of a story she is writing with her brushes.
Gridley follows a relatively consistent routine from week to week in her painting practice. “I seem to have regular hours in my studio and typically on Monday mornings I deal with the housekeeping part of my brain — paying bills, website updates, email correspondence — the domestic responsibilities of my studio practice.” Getting the essential, albeit mundane tasks of being a full-time artist out of the way at the beginning of the week clears up mental and physical space for Gridley to paint productively. “I need thinking time and painting time.”
Unlike some artists, her space is meticulously organized. “Over the years my studio has become quite empty and sparse. I need to feel there is no chaos in the room. I am quite neat and tidy.” She takes periodic breaks to for food, fresh air and to renew her sense of energy and focus. She puts as much emphasis on the set up for a painting as she does the painting process itself, thoughtfully arranging and rearranging a grouping of objects for a still life until it feels just right.
“I have to get excited about the objects I am painting, their relationship to one another, the spaces between, because I am going to spend a lot of time with them.”
It is like that with Gridley, she gets attached to objects and they become integral in her painting process. Some of them even become her subjects, often appearing over and over again in different paintings.
She is unable to nail down one single indispensable item in her studio, “They are all essential.” She has participated in many artist residencies around Vermont and beyond, and when she travels, she takes old tools with her — old friends. “I have had the same set of canvas pliers since 1980, and they just recently broke, finally worn out from all the of use. But I can not bring myself to part with them and still carry the pieces with me.”
Gridley says she rarely feels a sense of pride or satisfaction when she is done with a painting. “Perhaps,” she suggests, “it’s because there’s so much possibility and energy when I first start a painting. The deliciousness of beginnings.” She remembers a quote from Virginia Woolf:
“I remember one morning…
getting up at dawn…
there was such a sense of possibility!
You know? That feeling?
And… and I remember thinking to myself:
‘So this is the beginning of happiness…’
‘This is where it starts!’
‘And, of course, there’ll always be more.’
Never occurred to me
it wasn’t the beginning,
It was happiness.
It was the moment…”
But that is the wonderful thing about paintings for Gridley, “There is always another one to make.”
Gridley’s solo exhibition “A Few True Things” is being featured for the month of May at Edgewater Gallery on the Green. She says the pieces in her exhibit, which consist exclusively of still lifes, are very quiet and contemplative. “They are not flashy. They are introspective.” (Particularly in comparison to her past portrait work that was about bold statements and emerging adults claiming their voices.) She contemplates whether or not there is a place for this quiet, introspective work that is not screaming out a message, but instead leads to more query and investigation, providing little to no answers at all.
But are her still lifes really as quiet as she suggests? While the images are of beautiful nautilus shells, glass vessels, a simple egg, things that could be considered delicate and fragile, they in fact hold deep, strong meaning. Gridley sees these groupings of objects as members of a family posing for a family portrait. What someone might see as just a pitcher may very well be a sister or a cousin or a friend in Gridley’s eye. There is a great deal of symbolism and meaning behind each object, the way it sits juxtaposed to its family members, and also in the implied conversation between objects. And there is metaphor in her titles.
One painting, which Gridley has titled “Carapace,” is an image of porcupine quills and a nautilus shell. Here are these strong, protective elements, but beautifully painted to appear delicately perched on a plate. Tough exterior elements, meant to protect a vulnerable being on the inside. “I think one of the ways people are reacting to the current political situation is to hunker down and protect themselves.”
Another painting, “Bardo,” is a precisely detailed image of a sheep skull. As Gridley explains, bardo is a Buddhist term she recently learned. It refers to the state of transitional existence between death and one’s next life. The sheep skull is neither a living creature, nor has it yet returned to dust, as it eventually will. Perhaps, this painting represents the state of political limbo we are in – headed somewhere, some place of significant change, but we just do not know where that is, yet.
For Gridley there is no question that art, in all its forms, is an extremely important vehicle for expression. “Humans beings have always made art, clearly we need it. The idea that we could have the arts entirely defunded is scary. It would essentially be the murder of our culture.”
Gridley referred back to the quote from Hoffer, but felt a quote that resonates much more with her is from Jennie Terman, “The arts matter because they help us see the world from different perspectives. They give us empathy and help us understand people, places, periods of history, and issues with which we may otherwise be unfamiliar. They comfort us in grief and energize us in celebration. They are important because they can act as a catalyst for change… they can start a revolution! The arts ignite something in our brains that I can’t explain, but I know it’s essential for life.”
“A Few True Things” from Kate Gridley will be on display in May at Edgewater Gallery on the Green, with an opening reception on Friday, May 12, from 5-7 p.m. Light bites will be served by Grapevine Grille and Lincoln Peak Winery will be offering wine tastings.

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