“Roses” by Lorenzo Torres Narciso.
Courtesy photo
“Roses” by Lorenzo Torres Narciso.

Pushing boundaries

‘Atelier: An Exhibit of Contemporary Classical Realism’ shows 75 works of 23 artists, classically trained in New York City, whose work resonates in today’s world

NEWFANE — The village of South Newfane on the Dover Road, 7 miles west of Route 30 and 8 miles east of Route 100, might seem an unlikely spot for a cosmopolitan art event.

But look again.

This village, population around 380, is replete with artists - fine, graphic, literary, and performing - and the locus of the annual Rock River Artists' Studio Tour.

At Willow Retreat, proprietors Tom Concannon and Ravi Shimpi fit in well, with their offerings and intentions to not only promote healthy living but also to support the arts.

When Concannon, a policy researcher and member of Tufts University's medical school faculty, and Shimpi, a database engineer for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, were looking at properties in the area, they sought a place to promote good living - especially through yoga - and, Concannon adds, "to offer transcending experiences" while showcasing art. Their first major arts event should hit the mark.

"Atelier: An Exhibit of Contemporary Classical Realism" will be on display at Willow Retreat on Sunday, Aug. 27, from 1 to 6 p.m. Throughout the spacious rooms in the softly-lit, high-ceilinged 1899 inn, 23 artists will display 75 works.

All are trained or teach at Grand Central Atelier (GCA) in Brooklyn, New York, which was formed in the 1990s by a group of artists who "envisioned an aesthetic sensibility motivated by works from Raphael to Ingres," according to the organization's website. "This inspired a method rooted in traditions predating the 19th century and the advent of photography."

In 2014, GCA became organized under nonprofit status to provide a "rigorous four-year program" of "authentic classical art education," which the website describes as in the "unbroken 600-year-old tradition of artists contributing works of art untouched by modernism, inspired by the direct observation of nature."

Concannon, who has followed GCA artists for years, describes these artists learning techniques of the masters before they go "spinning off like mercury balls doing amazing contemporary works."

And that is the central theme of the show, which, according to a news release, "tells a story of the artists' evolution from classical training to their emergence on the contemporary art scene."

The movement, it continues, "pushes boundaries by focusing on works that are both technically impressive and emotionally resonant for a contemporary audience."

* * *

Concannon bandied about the idea for this Vermont show not long ago with several GCA artists.

The exhibit, says GCA organizer and contributor Michael Fetherston, is a standout for the breadth and depth of works on display.

With all artwork rendered in real time from life - not from photographs - the show features a variety of media in works by Fetherston and other GCA alumni: Liz Beard, Tyler Berry, Brendan Johnston, Janice Barnes, Chelsea Bard, Patrick Byrnes, Devin Cecil-Wishing, Tori Cole, Kate Donovan, Ananda Fetherston, Jacob Gabriel, Scott Garder, Elena Gladkova, Lukas Griffiths, Eric Lei, Noorjahan Mahajabin Asha, Rodrigo Mateo, Kevin Müller Cisneros, Lorenzo Torres Narciso, Heather Personett, Giovanni Priante, and Lara Saunders.

In a sampling previewed, the works - beyond demonstration of technical skill - resonate in subtleties, dynamic contrasts, fine brush strokes, and vivid color, as well as in their use of light, boldness of subject, and sympathy with nature.

In their manifesting an affinity for the human form, for landscapes and still life, some touch on myth, while others are quite dramatic. Some are ethereal, while others are agitating. Some are serene.

Concannon, a seasoned art collector, contributes his connections to the art world to the Willow Retreat mix while Shimpi, a lifelong yoga practitioner, brings his expertise in that area as well as cooking savvy honed from his early days helping his mother in the family's kitchen in Maharashtra, a western India state where he still has relatives.

Reflecting the many styles of Indian food, Shimpi's innovative and diverse cuisine will be offered one Saturday each month at an onsite pop-up takeout enterprise.

Contributing Atelier artists will "enjoy Ravi's food each evening," Concannon says, while they remain in residence at Willow Retreat from Aug. 26 through Sept. 1, venturing out in pairs each day starting Aug. 28 for plein-air landscape painting of sites offered by various area landowners with "landscape-worthy views."

* * *

Just a little over a year into being new stewards of the former Inn at South Newfane, which has seen many changes of hands over the years, Shimpi and Concannon note the response to Willow Retreat and its offerings has exceeded expectations as they look back on nine full retreats in their first year.

"We came to Vermont to spend more time doing yoga and being outdoors," Concannon says. "We didn't come up with the intent of running an inn."

After looking at a number of properties, large and small, the former inn "won out," he says.

"We came up with the idea we could run a retreat center dedicated to helping people reconnect to the passions and interests that make them feel alive," Concannon says.

Upcoming retreats and programs include Fitness for Body and Mind; Fall Into Balance: a Yoga and Wellness Retreat; Portrait Drawing and Painting Essentials; and Remembering Our Natural State of Being.

While these are designed primarily as residential retreats, Willow offers rates and a limited number of slots in each for participants who want to come just for the program.

Committed to offering the best they can in yoga, art, food, and accommodations, Concannon explains, they've made every effort to use "handmade, local, eco-compostable products and foods at Willow."

"We're interested in multiplying connections among creative people here," he says.

* * *

"Atelier: Exhibit of Contemporary Classical Realism" takes place at Willow, 369 Dover Rd. Admission is free, and light refreshments will be served. A preview is free with registration at willowvt.com/events/atelier, where a full catalogue of works is also available. Ample parking is available. For more information on Atelier and upcoming retreats and programs, visit willowvt.com.

Annie Landenberger is an arts writer and columnist for The Commons; she also is founder and artistic director of Rock River Players and is one half of the musical duo Bard Owl with partner T. Breeze Verdant.

This The Arts column by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.

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