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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Cassidy: Two Ways Of Seeing

Erin Jenkins
Installation view of paintings by Emily Mason, currently on display at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

Two current exhibitions at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center are stunning – and very different.

Emily Mason: To Another Place spans 6o years of energetic paintings, some more than three feet by four feet. They’re abstract; glorying in color, seemingly for its own sake, and they refuse specific interpretation. Instead, they invite – almost command - the viewer to look and look again. Subtle combinations of blended shades, sometimes punctuated by a contrasting line or splash, urge viewers to consider color in a new way.

Michael Poster’s exhibit, If she has a pulse, she has a chance, is almost the polar opposite of Mason’s. Poster's photographs portray addicts in recovery in muted tones. And the portaits share a background – apparently a common room at Turning Point, a meeting place for recovering addicts in Brattleboro.

So we focus on the individual subjects -- men, women and a few children – as they trustingly, almost serenely face Poster’s camera. On the wall beside the portraits are anonymous statements by recovering addicts, including Poster himself. In stark black lettering on white, they tell about relatives and friends who introduced them to alcohol or drugs – or who tried, and failed, to protect them. They describe arrests and jail time, living in cars, loved ones dying of overdoses, and children lost to state custody. And yet, resigned or hopeful, the people in these portraits are in recovery.

For several, becoming a recovery coach for others helped them heal – because no one knows better that recovery is not an event but an endless process. It’s a path strewn with obstacles and the ever-present danger of relapsing into addiction. And it takes courage to follow that path, and help others stay safely on it as well.

Visually, the exhibits could hardly be more different. Emily Mason’s shows the work of a lone painter, working in spectacular abstract color for more than sixty years; Michael Poster’s brings us close to people recovering from individual, concrete tragedies and we see their hope in this specific, difficult moment.

I think it’s safe to say that both exhibits – especially when viewed in such close proximity to one another - show how art can fundamentally change the way we see the world around us.

Maggie Brown Cassidy recently retired from teaching French at Brattleboro Union High School. She was also a teacher trainer and founder of the BUHS Swiss Exchange, which provided homestays and immersion experiences for hundreds of students in Vermont and Geneva. She continues to teach adults and has written many features for the Brattleboro Reformer.
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