Where the Art Is: Susan Roth and Darryl Hughto

Just two years ago, Limestone Art Gallery opened its doors in the scenic town of Fayetteville, NY. A town marked by its quaint streets and small specialty shops, Fayetteville is a happy home for this new fine arts gallery. Since opening its doors, Limestone has become an important advocate of local artists in Central New York. In addition to framing and printing services, they represent five visual artists and provide a rotating schedule of exhibitions. Their current show features the work of long-time Canastota residents and nationally renowned artists Susan Roth and Darryl Hughto.

Since the 1970s, Susan Roth and her husband Darryl Hughto have been highly regarded figures of the resurgent Abstract Expressional movement, working alongside their friend and influential art critic Clement Greenberg. Both have exhibited widely: at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Everson Museum and galleries in New York, Toronto and Montreal, to name a few.

Despite their notoriety, their most recent exhibit at Limestone is a testament to their longstanding commitment to their engagement with community – “everybody is a local artist somewhere,” Hughto says. To that end, Roth and Hughto gave an illuminating lecture this past Saturday at Limestone Gallery.

Talking to a small audience in the sun-speckled hall of the gallery, both artists spoke poetically and with great humility about their work. Treating the visual arts as a “two-way mirror,” Hughto and Roth discussed the various levels of reflection and self-reflection that art affords. Roth meditated on the importance of the “understanding” connoisseur, standing at the other end of the mirror, who she feels is just as important as the artist herself. Hughto discussed the objectivity of painting, which begins and ends with the subjective experience of the painter and the viewer, respectively. The art object is defined by its static reality; if a viewer has a different reaction to the object, it is the viewer who has changed and not the object. Thus, Hughto sees the visual art as an affirmation of human identity, which serves to link us with past generations. Both artists praise painting and sculpture for the qualities that make them uniquely visual experiences, and the works in the exhibition deliver on those experiences.

In recent years, Hughto has turned from a body of work that is exclusively abstract to increasingly representational subjects; in this exhibit he shows a series of landscape pieces as well as floral still-lives inspired by the work of Susan Poppinger, a flower artist from Skaneateles. Though the paintings themselves are representational, they still implicate the emotive, subjective experience of the painter, an important tenant of Abstract Expressionism. In Ruby Tuesday, for instance, Hughto sets the flowers – of pale pink and pastel greens – among the rich, rust-colored hues of the vase and the curtained background. At first the flowers are almost imperceptible; they appear as a simultaneous rush of color, frenetically energetic in the center of the canvas and dissipating to a softened glow at the edges. Juxtaposed against the warmer background palette, Hughto pushes the flowers to the front of the picture plan, creating a perceptual flatness, his recognition of the objective picture-plan. In other works, such as Dragon Tree, Hughto uses layers of acrylic to build up the surface of the canvas, creating ripples and bubbles and crackling.

Similarly, Roth’s painting and sculptural works experiment with the plasticity of visual media. In her sculptural work as well as her paints, Roth attempts to “slip the bonds on two-dimensional surface,” as Nancy Keefe Rhodes writes in the exhibition catalog. In her paintings, Roth uses acrylic, box tops, sheaths of canvas and “accretions” to achieve a textural assemblage. Like Hughto, Roth’s compositions rely not on the representational content of the work but rather the relationship of its colors and its deliberate composition. For example, in Night Falls/Charleston Beach, Roth positions two rectangular shapes at a skewed perpendicular angle in a field of swirling colors – royal blues, dark oranges, light grays. The rectangles themselves contain chromatic and textual complexities that play off of the background: light teal splotches, lavender crackling and pale golden spackles of paint. Together, the works of Susan Roth and Darryl Hughto demonstrate a refined clarity of vision; like Cezanne before them, they successfully use form and color to create an ever-changing and inexhaustible experience for the viewer.