Works from collage artist Vanessa Compton and sculptor Lee Williams are now on  display on the grounds of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.
Erin Jenkins/Courtesy of BMAC
Works from collage artist Vanessa Compton and sculptor Lee Williams are now on display on the grounds of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

New outdoor exhibits open at BMAC

BRATTLEBORO-The view outside the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) looks a little different now that new work by two Vermont artists is gracing the building's large window bays and front lawn.

Collage artist Vanessa Compton and sculptor Lee Williams each present their own complex explorations of what it means to be a human interacting with society and the landscape, in exhibits titled "A Night at the Garden" and "The Wounding," respectively.

Both artists use pre-existing and recycled materials to create new worlds that, according to BMAC Director of Exhibitions Sarah Freeman, "question our perception of what is familiar and what is uncanny or unexpected."

While the two artists share an appreciation for striking colors and textures, and both approach artmaking as a form of social commentary, their work couldn't be more different.

Compton, who was raised in rural Vermont and now lives in Burlington, combines handcut papers and paint to create surreal, dream-like landscapes in which "time is on the loose, with past, present, and future existing simultaneously," she says.

At BMAC, reproductions of her collages are presented on a much larger scale than the original works, inviting the viewer to immerse themselves more fully in the worlds Compton is creating. Each collage is a way for Compton - and viewers, too, she hopes - to wrestle with big questions. How do we navigate the complicated histories that divide people but also bind them together? How do we love and protect children in a messy, unpredictable world? How do we reconcile mythologies about the American West that valued violence and claim that everyone had equal access to freedom?

Williams turns our attention to the natural world and how we perceive and interact with it. Originally from South Wales in the United Kingdom, he now lives in Shaftsbury, Vermont. His sculptures typically begin with a weather-battered tree, a grassy hillside -something that exists in the landscape. To these natural objects Williams attaches brightly colored elements that initially seem out of place, yet he sees them as symbols of the "interventions" that he-and the rest of us-have made in our environment.

Williams says there's a bit of mystery to his work: a tower of stumps covered in a rainbow of spiky, colored pegs resembles a porcupine with quills out, hinting at something that may have taken place, "like clues to an event, a happening, even some form of entanglement." Believing that society is becoming increasingly disconnected from nature, Williams aims to "treasure the natural world, its vastness, the small scale, the ordinary, the beautiful."

Together, Compton's and Williams's works have a cumulative effect, according to Freeman. "Both artists' work make an impact from a distance," she says. "The unexpected colors in the sculptures are echoed in some of the collage compositions, which draws attention to how both artists are playing with our human desire-or need-to make sense of what we see," she says.

Compton's "A Night at the Garden" is on view through April 2025. Williams's "The Wounding" is on view through Nov. 3, 2024.

This Arts item was submitted to The Commons.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates