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Posted on Sun, Aug 11, 2013 : 8:53 a.m.

AADL exhibiting Cathy Barry's intriguing paintings of worlds 'Out Here'

By John Carlos Cantu


"Ally" by Cathy Barry

Cathy Barry’s exhibit “Out Here” at the Ann Arbor District Library launches this local arts educator’s paintings into the uncharted realms of the cosmos.

Barry (who teaches painting at Washtenaw Community College) has exhibited through this last decade, and her signature February 2010 “Overview” exhibit at the Chelsea Center for the Arts illustrated her previous style of abstracted landscape composition.

As she said in her artist’s statement to that display, “Aerial views of Earth have been the subject matter of my painting. I use many resources for material including satellite photography; cartography; geological surveys; oceanic and atmospheric photography; and photos taken from flights taken by myself.”

These medium-sized geometrically abstract paintings look everything like bird’s-eye views of what’s below the horizon. Detailed with either environmental topographical design or urbanesque rectilinear grids, Barry’s art is akin to floating just slightly below a cloudline keenly observing what’s directly underneath. By contrast, “Out Here” looks out in the other direction — and the distances are telling.

“This body of work comes from my interest in Deep Space and the Cosmos,” says Barry in this exhibit’s gallery statement. “I find images of outer space incredibly beautiful and very thought provoking. Looking at and reading about such phenomenon as quasars, nebulae, black holes, stars and galaxies is mind boggling to me. There are amazing events occurring all the time beyond our world.

“The concepts and theories regarding the existence of time and space in the universe leave room for much exploration, imagination and discovery. Expression of my thoughts and feelings about such big ideas helps me reflect on a personal level about my place in all this.”

“Out Here” indeed helps us reflect our place in the scheme of things. And what’s most fascinating about this display of 26 paintings executed between 2009-20013 is Barry’s way of translating this enthusiasm to her viewer.

Most interesting is the formal geometric reduction she uses in her compositions. For while these paintings are a clear transition from her prior subject matter, the manner in which she compresses her geometry is also on a far differing scale.

Those prior topographical and urban-influenced paintings relied on her audience’s familiarity with our landscape to orient the work’s geometry.

The cosmic is, however, distorting. One strategy therefore might be to emulate the astounding images taken by the Hubble telescope, where the scale of dimension and distance is nearly beyond human comprehension.

It’s therefore reassuring that Barry has opted to give us the human scale — and her art has thereby imaginatively grown proportionately. Rather than try to approximate these stunning astronomical photographs, Barry has opted to borrow a page out of 20th century geometric expressionism.

Take her 2011 oil on birch “Ally” painting. This red and blue composition features a furious scrub that occupies the larger part of the work’s surface. But in the left corner of the work, Barry has crafted rings whose concentric recession leads to an earth-like orb focusing the artwork.

Barry therefore gets to have her outer space and depict it, too. A more straightforward painting might have yielded another result, but Barry’s handiwork replaces one visual splendor for a more thorough-going intimate psychological one.


"Flock" by Cathy Barry

For “Ally” might have been awe-inspiring in the manner of a NASA photograph; there’s no doubt that she could translate this imagery to her purpose. But by incorporating the gesture of abstraction around her planet, and then adding the painting’s internal recession, she invites us to contemplate the significance of Earth as a blue marble — or contemplate another such blue marble elsewhere.

2011-12’s oil on birch “Flock,” on the other hand, shows Barry enthralled with the geometric purity of the cosmos. Looking vaguely like a blue-tinged out-of-focus Hubble photograph of some far-flung galaxy, Barry once again gets to have her cosmos and depict it, too.

Cascading rings upon rings — double-rings and rings with red-centers — Barry marries what might approximate one of those astounding outer space photos with the crucial human dimension. And while we may marvel at the clarity of these other photographs, we more properly think vaguely in terms of what we can conceive. Thus Barry’s blurry, variegated blend of oils carries us to realm where fictive contemplation meets hard fact.

“Cathy Barry: Out Here” will continue through Sept. 1 at the Ann Arbor District Library lower-level Multi-Purpose Room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. Exhibit hours are 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 734-327-4200.