Spheris Gallery hosts acclaimed Vermont artist's works

by Lucy Randall | 11/14/06 6:00am

On Saturday night, prospective buyers, interested artists and fans of local artist Eric Aho gathered in Hanover's Spheris Gallery to hear an informal talk about the artist's work. Aho lives and works in Vermont, where he grew up, and has returned to teach after studying in Massachusetts, England and Finland.

Aho's show, "New Paintings," is currently being shown at the Hanover branch of Spheris Gallery, which expanded into Hanover from its original location in Bellows Falls, VT.

The gallery, which opened quietly last spring, is located next to the Nugget Theatre on Main Street and provides an austere venue that lends itself especially well to works as elegant and colorful as Aho's. Comprised of one long room with white walls and exposed metal rafters, the gallery's display of Aho's explorations of the lush countryside of northern New England makes for a pleasing juxtaposition.

While Aho modestly admitted he had expected only 10 or 12 people to come, attendance reached easily six times that figure, with even more patrons noticeably entering the one-room gallery as he spoke. Aho coyly attributed the size of the group to the ease of driving in this unusually "balmy" November weather while standing in front of a signature wintry scene painting, providing himself with a casual segue into what was to be a graceful and illuminating discussion of the mental conception of his work and the execution of his paintings.

"I'm never able to leave the hangar of the subject," said Aho, whose work revolves around New England pastorals. Some of his pieces depict houses and farms, but most focus on landscapes in hushed pastels, vibrant greens and greys which he selects with "accident and intention."

Many in the crowd seemed insistent on pressing him for such technical questions as to which greens he used and the type of palate-knife he preferred, but Aho's background as a teacher in Finland, Ireland, Norway and at Colgate University revealed itself in his ability to glide from those questions to others about his process and inspiration.

In his brief, informal talk, Aho highlighted the "pressure" he'd felt as a student and artist in London to appreciate artists such as J.M.W. Turner and John Constable; though he "dutifully" saw them at the Tate Museum and considered them carefully, he "didn't get them."

Calling himself an artist who needs "to refer to something," Aho cited Rembrandt's portraits as an influence when asked about the darkness of the windows in his piece, "Summer House." Despite his consciousness of other artists' work while he is in the process of painting, Aho said he tries most of all to paint what he "sees" when engaged in his single-session work.

When asked about the choice of whether or not to add much detail to any painting, he explains, "Paintings are more detailed or obscured in response to how I see things. Paint is the path of the eye."

Aho articulated the ideas behind his work and the thoughts about his craft extremely intelligently and without pretension, despite the profundity of his comments and the awe and interest his audience transmitted. He drew his comments to a close remarking: "I'd like to make a painting of nothing. Not even touch the canvas somehow."

"New Paintings" will show at Spheris through the end of November. Simultaneously, Spheris' partner gallery, Reeves Contemporary in New York City, will also show a collection of Aho's new work.