Artists Answer Darkness With Light At Kehler Liddell

Juliette Lao | February 20th, 2023

Artists Answer Darkness With Light At Kehler Liddell

Kehler Liddell Gallery  |  Painting  |  Arts & Culture  |  Visual Arts  |  Westville  |  Sculpture  |  printmaking


Kelly Clark, “Immersed,” at Kehler Liddell Gallery in Westville. Light, the gallery's seventh annual juried show, runs through March 12. Juliette Lao Photos.

At first glance, it looks like a photograph. A girl lets the water close in over her head, sunlight scattering across her face. Above two sunshine-yellow straps, her hair billows out all around her, like a reverse jellyfish. Her eyes close nearly all the way, lips parting in what looks like a smile. For a moment, the world seems totally quiet, and she is blissfully at peace. 

Kelly Clark’s oil-on-canvas “Immersed” is one of over 70 pieces in Light, the seventh annual juried show at Kehler Liddell Gallery on 873 Whalley Ave. Running now through March 12, the show seeks to inject light—literally and otherwise—into the darkest time of the year, with pieces that range from large-scale installation to printmaking and photography. 

It is curated by Gallery Director Kate Henderson and founding gallery member Matthew Garrett, with a jury of eight artists and theme from artist and gallery member Julie Fraenkel. Overall, it is a reminder that even when things seem very dark, artists are able to light the way. The gallery received over 400 entries for the show.



Top: "Night light " by Penrhyn Cook. Bottom: Jay Daugherty’s oil-on-canvas “Now It’s The Women’s Turn."

“When you have so many artists with so many different styles, sometimes it's overwhelming to make it look good,” Muffy Pendergast, assistant director at the gallery, said in a recent interview. “It doesn't look like a mishmash the way they put it together. It looks so beautiful, like all the pieces fit together.”

Those words ring throughout the exhibition, which often jumps between two- and three-dimensional artwork. In Jay Daugherty’s oil-on-canvas “Now It’s The Women’s Turn,” a slender, stone body stands at the center of a darkened room, unmoving in the bright ring of a spotlight. On its body—if it is a body—wispy, white threads emerge from its hips, and a horn stands in where its nose and face should be. 

Around it, sharp-edged magenta rocks float in space. Liquid, melty forms drip from the walls and make puddles on the floor. In these mixtures of blues and greens, it looks like something is constantly being born. While the objects in the painting are still, they convey movement and depth, as if a viewer is looking into an underwater cave or scene. 

As the artist explains in an accompanying catalog, the title comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Bluebeard, a fictional autobiography of the equally fictional painter Rabo Karabekian. 

KLG_Light7Close by, Rose Devlin’s multimedia “Crystalized Concept” (pictured at left) catches a viewer’s attention, with colors that swirl as if they are on the inside of a lava lamp. In shades of blue-green and frosty white, the layers of plexiglass appear to create a visual story, one rising up like a hill as the other plummets back down in the background. Over the center, a crystal hangs above the movement, completely still. Around it, an almost-oval mirrors its shape.     

The longer a viewer stands with the piece, the more the space within it seems to morph. On a recent visit to the gallery, the artist said that the work is part of how she plays with depth and dimension in her art. There with Gallery 53 Director Sandy Goodyear, she praised the show, lingering in front of Masha Morgunova’s “Tranquility” for the feeling of inner peace that it gave her. 

The painting, which is oil on canvas, shows a girl illuminated in the orange glow of a match that has just been struck. Her eyes are closed; her head bows just slightly. Her face is still, as though she is lost in thought or perhaps praying. In the light of the match, her long hair almost looks like it’s ablaze. 

There’s something young and tender about her that the light, which leaves her forehead in the blue-black darkness, draws out. As she looked on, Devlin said she found the work beautiful. 


Masha Morgunova’s “Tranquility."

That’s part of the fun of a show this large, Pendergast said, joking it was a little “like Christmas morning” to receive the 75 pieces. There are just over six dozen, comprising everything from spray, oil, acrylic and watercolor paint to plexiglass to mixed media sculpture. Viewers, who come in off Whalley Avenue, are bound to have different favorites. 

“You put out this call and you’re not sure who it's going to appeal to,” Pendergast said. “It could be anyone. And then things [artworks] show up and you get your images, and then you see it in real life. It’s another layer of surprise.”

Pendergast, for instance, gravitates toward Kraig Binkowski's “Evening Light,” a woodcut printed on Japanese paper, and Erich Davis “Illumination.” The first is quiet, understated, so a viewer has to get close to study it. The second hangs in the center of the gallery, transforming the space from where it hangs. 

Davis, who has become a familiar part of the annual luminary walk in Edgerton Park, plays with the idea of fire and light, turning the work into a dancing, bright white inanimate column of flame.     


Kong Ho’s “The Shared Identity of Binary Forces."

In addition to light, several pieces in the show have a sense of movement. In Kong Ho’s acrylic-on-canvas “The Shared Identity of Binary Forces,” a six-petaled lavender orchid bursts open, light coming from its center. There, red anthers reach out on their filaments, eagerly greeting the sun. 

Various currents of candy blue, scarlet reds and lime green spread out from the edges of the canvas, overlapping with the opened flower and its deep red veins. There is so much depth and color that it pulls a viewer towards it.

On a much quieter scale, that's also true in Robert Giannotti’s photograph “The Journey.” As a viewer stares at the piece, infinite, rugged and damp train tracks lead towards a bright door-like shape ahead,  the bright yellow light cloaked with white fog. Trees loom from all sides; gray rocks and pebbles cover the ground. And yet, there is the opening, still shining in the gloom. 


Robert Giannotti’s “The Journey.”

It seems that it’s the light of hope, when everything seems hopeless.  At an opening ceremony earlier this month, the work won an audience award, as did Binkowski's “Evening Light” and Shawn Sullivan’s “Cement Plant Nocturne.” 

In a recent conversion, Pendergast noted that the gallery has many exciting events coming up, both related to and beyond this exhibition. On Feb. 26, the ArtEcon Initiative plans to host a 90-minute artists’ talk at the gallery, with a remote option for those who cannot or do not wish to be in person. On March 12, the gallery will host a closing reception with additional prizes for a “People’s Choice Award.”  

Juliette Lao is a senior at New Haven Academy. This piece grew out of her 2022 internship at the Arts Paper. Kehler Liddell Gallery is located at 873 Whalley Ave. in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood. The gallery is open Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Learn more at their website. Lucy Gellman contributed reporting.