Bill Davison and Jamaican artists at the Fleming Museum

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(Host) Commentator Lois Eby recently visited UVM’s Fleming Museum where she viewed two exhibits, both very impressive and each very different from the other.

(Eby) Bill Davison, a revered print artist and professor of art at the University of Vermont for many years, is retiring from teaching at the end of the spring semester 2003. A show in the Fleming’s Wolcott Gallery of prints from his student years right through 2002 is a fitting tribute to his contribution to the art of printmaking and to the art department at UVM.

Like the prints themselves, the show is spare and disciplined. Only 14 prints are included. The first print in the show, from 1966, was inspired by the grid-like windowpanes of Vermont architecture. The “grid,” a network of uniformly spaced horizontal and perpendicular lines, was also used in minimalism – an art movement that arose in New York in the 1960s and that greatly influenced Mr. Davison s lifelong direction.

These prints are the result of highly skilled technique and a preference for spare, geometric form in a beautifully and subtly crafted relationship to space. One can imagine that the mastery of technique, thoughtful eye, and constant exploration of new techniques and combinations apparent in his own work made Mr. Davison an inspiring and challenging teacher. In the last two years, Davison has begun working in the more spontaneous and unpredictable method of monoprints. Each of his monoprints in this show is a grid of squares of subtly related colors. These works are simple yet complex, soft yet structured. It s a combination of opposites that gives all of Bill Davison s work great strength and layered impact.

Across the hall in the East Gallery is a show titled “Soon Come: the Art of Contemporary Jamaica.” The artists in this show were born in Jamaica; some have spent their whole lives in Jamaica but many have studied art in the United States, as well as in Africa and South America. The works in this show present an exciting dialogue between Jamaican experience and tradition, Western art movements, and the emerging world culture of art.

Through Judith Salmon, a Jamaican artist now living and showing her work in Vermont, most recently at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury, I have come to know some of the rich, complex, and painful experience which Jamaican artists bring to their work. The history of slavery and colonialism, the interaction of immigrants from the West, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and the contemporary efforts to form a viable economy all lead to identity issues, painful memories, and deeply felt experience of life. The diverse and strongly felt art these Jamaican artists are creating opens the viewer to a larger experience of what it means to be Jamaican and what it means to be human.

Both shows will be at the Fleming Museum through December 15.

This is Lois Eby.

Lois Eby is a painter who comments on the arts, women’s issues and civil rights.

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