Art Review: Wendy James, Lynn Rupe and Carolyn Hack, Burlington International Airport
Whether coming or going, Vermonters will be among the 23 million passengers nationwide who are flying for the holidays. Those who pass through Burlington International Airport  will be able to take in exceptional works by local artists this month, courtesy of the Burlington City Arts  leasing program.
Wendy James’ intriguing paintings are hung in the Gates 1-8 area. She’s a photographer as well as a painter, and her photographs provide excellent source material for her canvases. The 16-by-20-inch “Brookdale” depicts an old tire-selling garage with a worn soft-drink sign on its side. The sky is yellow. James seems to favor morning or evening hues for her skies, and sometimes bathes her subjects in crimson light.
“Workspace” is a 28-by-14-inch factory scene with a worker at his task in the lower left. The vignette recalls Diego Rivera’s monumental mural of the auto industry at the Detroit Institute of Arts. But James’ painting is a little starker. The focal point is not the worker or the pipes overhead, it’s actually a blank wall. Still, that wall is beautifully painted in shades of pale blue, crimson and yellow.
In the 18-by-24-inch “Meters,” the subject is four gas meters beside a building. The image has no real narrative, and that’s one reason why James’ expressive realism is so appealing. Her pieces have subtle distortions and unexpected hues. The wires and poles, dumpsters, beat-up bricks, and siding resemble stage sets, yet nothing is happening there.
Lynn Rupe’s paintings are about the aftermath of an awful event, yet they seem almost cheerful. Her “Disaster Detritus” series, installed in the Skyway area on the airport’s second floor, is based on the mountains of debris Rupe witnessed on trips to the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Irene. She saw “miles of long piles of riding lawn mowers, pieces of jungle gyms, and every imaginable remnant of once rich, colorful lives,” Rupe writes in an artist statement. That sight inspired a group of 12-by-12-inch panels that seem interchangeable, each painted with a jumble of abstract, ironically playful shapes against a textural white background. While a couple of the panels are black and white, most have the vivid colors of children’s toys: blue, yellow, red, green, purple.
The “Disaster Detritus” series has 32 panels, many organized into vertical columns of two or three panels each. There are also two horizontal arrangements, one composed of four conjoined panels, the other of five. All the small forms in these works have heavy, dark lines that make them seem to pop from the white backgrounds.
Hanging above the escalator is Carolyn Hack’s assemblage “Flight Simulator,” a vertically oriented pair of four-panel constructions in paper and mixed media. Like Rupe’s panels, Hack’s green and silver pieces come together to form a unified whole. The three-dimensional constructions on the flat surfaces look like large flying bugs. Each panel is identical, and the entire work features interesting rhythms and strange paper surfaces.
The Transportation Safety Administration advises that passengers arrive at the airport a couple hours before their flights. While this may seem excessive at BTV, it leaves plenty of time for art appreciation.