OLD LYME — On a richly painted canvas titled “Cuckold,” a figure faces away from the viewer, mimicking the act of observing the world and art itself, inviting questions and a story to be told.
The figure bears a strong resemblance to the artist, Bo Bartlett, whose show “Cirque De La Vie,” or the “circus of life,” is on view through June 30 at Lyme Academy of Fine Arts’ Chauncey Stillman Gallery.
In 13 works on paper and canvas drawn from the last 10 years of his work, Bartlett creates compositions that are “both personal and yet have a kind of universal relevance,” said Jordan Sokol, co-curator of the show and co-artistic director of the school.
“He sort of taps into something that makes his images or his paintings feel iconic,” Sokol told CT Examiner on Wednesday. “He’s painting the world around him, he’s painting family members, his friends, people that are in his community, the places where he lives. But yet through his paintings, they become sort of archetypal so they have a universal story that he’s telling. It’s something magical that he’s able to do in his work.”
Many of the works contain figures that resemble the artist, said Sokol, including the largest work in the show, “The Wayfarer,” that depicts a traveler holding a guitar case in a dreamlike scene that includes trapeze artists, a Ferris wheel, traveling musicians and a distant billboard advertising a fair.
“I think this painting is kind of a great example of the theme of the exhibition overall, just the circus of life. All of these paintings are in different ways, sort of commentaries on that idea, that theme,” Sokol said. “I love the colors of this painting. I love the pants. I also love the scale of the painting – it allows the viewer to really feel like you’re part of that world, like you could just walk right through the painting.”
Sokol said very few artists are able to tap into the universality depicted in Bartlett’s pieces.
“I think Andrew Wyeth was an exceptional example of an artist who is able to do that, and Bo Bartlett had a close friendship with Andrew Wyeth, who was sort of a mentor to Bo towards the later years,” Sokol said. “I think Bo has that same sort of magic in his work, where he has a kind of discernment in his decision making. It’s how he chooses to simplify certain things, where he chooses to put focus on certain things, how he plays with perspective and space, all of those.”
All of the exhibitions at the school are curated around the history and development of figurative art, he said.
“Bo Bartlett is a great contemporary example of an artist who’s working within the figurative tradition but is making work that is relevant today,” Sokol added. “And so he’s just a great example for our students, but also for the mission of the academy, which is to teach traditional skills, but for today’s world.”
The gallery is located at 84 Lyme St. All works in the exhibition are available for purchase. Admission is free. The show was curated by Lyme Academy co-artistic directors Sokol and Amaya Gurpide.