Good Vibrations

Audra Skuodas hits high notes in Vermilion gallery

 It's not that far to Vermilion from downtown Cleveland — half an hour or so west on I-90 — yet it seems much farther, like a quaint slice of Connecticut or Rhode Island transposed to our own low-sodium shore. The lighthouse, the hand-dipped ice cream and the boats are what you would expect. A Chelsea-quality gallery isn't. Yet that's what artist/gallerist Sherry Bradshaw has managed to establish in the shell of a former movie theater.

Bradshaw, who moved to Vermilion partly to have access to driftwood and other shoreline flotsam, makes her art from sticks and bones. Her studio is in the back of the building, and during the three years of the gallery's operation, she has occasionally installed her own work, which will be display in a show called Digging Beneath the Surface at FAVA Gallery in Oberlin, opening August 16.

The artseen is a near-perfect New York-style space, with a poured concrete floor that slopes gently down, opening into a broad exhibition area like a shallow pool. The transformed movie palace is perfect for stretching and unwinding art objects, maximizing the relationships between the elements of a body of work.

At least something like that seems to be happening with Oberlin-based painter Audra Skuodas's 18 large, elegantly poised, deeply emotional compositions now on view there.  Skuodas often achieves a hyper-delicate sense of visual balance as she explores linear intersection, breach and closure. In the process, she often evokes musical composition.

At the show Reverberative Pulsations: Vibrational Vulnerability Series, her paintings are shown singly, as well as in mixed and matched pairs and triplets, more like visual chords than traditional diptychs or triptychs. They sweep around the blank room like a song cycle, not exactly forming a narrative but telling more than the show's title would suggest.

Lithuanian by birth, Skuodas spent years as a child following WWII in displaced-persons camps before emigrating to the U.S.  The figurative images that linger almost invisibly in her largely abstract compositions — hands, faces, torsos and dancing or crouching bodies — are elongated like starved shades of social realism's well-fed workers. Both ethereal and goblin-like, they hark back to Eastern European religious art and further, to folk themes that preceded the establishment of the church. Here they sound harmonies that mix ancient and modern material, somewhat in the way that folk themes inform much of Shostakovich's music or the traditional motifs of Mahler.

The works on view date primarily from 2002-2007, with one three-panel work from 1995. None are specifically titled; instead Skuodas provides a list of 36 thoughts and phrases which viewers are invited to associate with her imagery. Among these are "The Soul Recoils Into Infinity," "Longing Is Proof," and "The Greatest Evil Is the Anaesthetized Heart." As these suggest, Skuodas weaves mortality into a sublime eternity, creating works of surpassing beauty. 

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