Signs of the Times
State of the Arts
Downtown Winooski is slowly blossoming: The roundabout is completed, students have moved in, and a couple new bar-restaurants are shaping up the wine-and-dine scene. It was just a matter of time before the Onion City got an art gallery and tattoo studio. This month both will open in the form of Aartistic Inc. - and that double "a" is not a typo. Jessica Bridge, owner of 1/2 Lounge in Burlington, is launching the combo body- and wall-art business with partners Tyre and Gina DuVernay. Licensed tattoo artists, the DuVernays are from New Orleans and have made a new home in Vermont.
Aartistic Inc., located above Blue Star Café on Main Street, has "expansive wall space," says Bridge. "We thought it would be a waste of space not to use it for art; it looks more like a gallery than a tattoo place." The first exhibitor, Bridge says, will be Burlington painter Tom Lawson - his November opening date is still TBA. Bridge plans to change the exhibit "every four or five weeks" after that. The DuVernays' artwork, however, is permanent.
Speaking of the Blue Star: Its sign was made by Burlington metal sculptor/ signmaker Katherine Clear. She also produced one for 38 Main next door. Both businesses have followed the lead - as did the Monkey House - of Sneakers Bistro, whose hanging hightops have marked the Main Street block for more than 20 years. Across the river in Burlington, Clear created a subtler sign for the Green Door on St. Paul Street. It's an appropriately discreet tag for the bar-restaurant that resembles a bank outside but opens into a quietly cool, cushy lounge.
A few blocks away, on the funkier corner of North Winooski and Pearl, Clear's latest project is, one could hope, a sign of the times: a bicycle rack. She responded to an appeal from Burlington City Arts to create an artistic bike rack, and won the gig with her design inspired by a coiling Kryptonite lock. The sinuous functional sculpture is made of steel, with a giant "tumbler lock" that actually moves. "People have asked me what combination 'opens' it," Clear reports, "but it's just for fun."
She says Radio Bean owner Lee Anderson had something to do with getting a rack at that location - who knew the Bean was a biker bar? Apparently, the coffee shop/music venue draws enough two-wheelers that more parking was needed. Clear says her rack is built to accommodate eight bikes, but she believes a few more could squeeze in.
Clear, a New Jersey native, is 27 and a 2001 graduate of the University of Vermont. Her metal works include custom signage and sculpture for exhibition - she's participated in Art Hop and Stowe's annual outdoor-sculpture show called "Exposed!" And she has the good fortune to be working alongside Burlington's pre-eminent metal sculptor Kate Pond, in a capacious studio at S.T. Griswold in Williston. Clear names Pond and former studio mate Bill Heise as her two greatest influences in the medium. "The inspiration is the metal," she says, "and what I can do with it."
Burlington musician David Symons has a thing for Wallace Shawn - the quirky, lisping, brilliant writer-actor who plays the "inconceivable" character in The Princess Bride. He's also been involved in such cerebral works as My Dinner with Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street. The son of famed New Yorker editor William Shawn, Wallace is also a playwright of more obscure and even headier works. His single-character play The Fever, which he wrote in 1990 partly in reaction to wars in Central America, is one of them. Symons became obsessed with it as a teen. "Things just hit you so hard when you're 18," he says. "I couldn't get out of bed for two days."
Symons is perhaps best known locally for his soulful vocals and accordion work in the Eastern European-inspired Black Sea Quartet. Though he has focused primarily on playing and composing music over the past decade, he's also taken time to memorize The Fever. Now 28, he's finally decided to perform it publicly. Symons calls The Fever "an exquisitely written, blistering, uncompromising monologue of great power, which manages to be both funny and deeply unsettling."
In it, the character - an erudite, well-off New Yorker much like Shawn himself - talks in emotional and often contradictory passages about worldly woes such as violence, greed and exploitation, and attempts to find his own moral compass. "It's controversial," Symons says. "He turns the audience into the main character."
Inspired by the controversial conflicts of its day, the work has obvious resonance now. When The Fever first came out, critics accused Shawn of wallowing in the "pathology of the privileged." But Symons refutes the idea that the work is about liberal guilt. "It's about consciousness. It's relevant because of the gulf between our supposed morality and the way we actually live our lives," he says, "and the impact our choices have on others."
If The Fever challenges audiences, the shifting stream of language and emotion is also daunting for the solo actor. "I've been in plenty of plays, but I've never been the play," Symons puts it. "I'm just going to throw myself into it, and hopefully it won't be boring."
The Fever is scheduled for November 8 and 15, at 8 p.m., at Montpelier's Black Door. Symons is looking for an affordable Burlington venue, too - he says he'll even perform in living rooms. "This is a play," he says, "that I think people should see." Got space? Call him at 660-2465.
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