Ordinarily, Phil Lonergan's 1,200 pound sculpture of a pencil, titled "The Master Misses the Memo", might dominate the other exhibits at AVA Gallery and Art Center. It is a colossal joke that Lonergan is bravely telling on himself and on art.
But the other work at AVA is so absorbing that it's easy to look past the pencil.
In the main downstairs gallery, the lustrous geometric form of Gerald Auten's drawings in graphite and oil are paired with industrial landscapes by Charles Goodwin.
Auten, a Norwich resident and director of Dartmouth College's studio art exhibition program, displays images of deep, glowing black figures that constitute a landscape at once fascinating and sinister. Words and forms emerge from or fade into darkness or smoke. An image of black bands looks like the underside of a bridge in the twilight, sharply geometrical and a bit scary.
His pieces and Goodwin's paintings are so complementary it made me wonder whether the two artists share a studio or whether they are drinking buddies. Goodwin's paintings of what look like refineries or tank farms in industrial colors that suggest rust, oil and fire, are natural partners with Auten's dark images.
In looking at art in the Upper Valley, I don't often come across images of the man-made world. Landscapes tend toward the bucolic.
Auten and Goodwin, who lives in Warner, N.H., give us images straight out of Yeat's great line," whatever flames upon the night, man's own resinous heart has fed." The use of "man" here is no mistake. There's something unmistakably masculine about the works of Auten, Goodwin and Lonergan.
AVA offers a pair of counterweights in an exhibit of work from it's figure-drawing classes and in a show of drawings and paintings by part-time Hanover resident Manuela Holban.
Tucked into the tightly enclosed annex gallery, Holban's work renders a mysterious dream world populated by colorful, strangely faceless figures, women in opulent costumes, dark hallways and rooms with tall ceilings. The multitude of images creates a complete universe of fanciful and inexplicable activity.
The figure studies give Upper Valley viewers an idea of what AVA artists see and think when they draw and paint. As with Holban's exhibit, most of the figures are feminine.
In addition to the giant pencil, Lonergan, of Campton, N.H., exhibits a political sculpture. To make "View Tax", Lonergan took a medium-sized ash tree, cut it into sections and rejoined it with wooden pins. It's a representation of tortured logic. The once-upright tree has been contorted to keep it close to the ground.
Taken together, this is the strongest collection of work that I've see at AVA. Go see it."