Art Review: "Sweet!," Studio Place Arts
Anyone with a sweet tooth is sure to enjoy the eye candy currently on display at Studio Place Arts  in Barre. In fact, visitors with a fondness — or uncontrollable craving — for cakes, pies, ice cream and candy will salivate over “Sweet!,” a show presenting all manner of dreamy desserts and diet busters. They’re not edible, however, so the caloric content is nonexistent, even though these 50 or so paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and mixed-media confections pay visual homage to the Sugar Demon and her consort, the Butter Monster.
A couple of the artists don’t simply depict sweets; they use them as materials. Leah Sophrin of Montpelier smears melted gummy bears onto plastic surfaces to produce a down-market version of stained glass.
Most of the pieces in “Sweet!” are intended to be humorous, and two or three of them succeed to hilarious effect. Some of the jokey creations are also serious — that is, well executed — works of art, while others may evoke more winces than smiles. A few high-quality pieces aren’t meant to be funny at all, despite their frothy subject matter.
Heidi Broner, who had a fine show of paintings depicting people at work last year at the Central Vermont Medical Center, returns to that theme for this exhibit, with a similarly resonant result. In Broner’s “White Chocolate,” an East Asian factory worker wearing a hairnet is shown pouring milk into a pan. Behind her on the large canvas looms a machine that probably turns out the rows of white-chocolate bunnies seen sitting on a tray in the foreground. It’s a simple scene of everyday nobility.
A trio of pencil drawings by Mary Reardon, the art teacher at Spaulding High School, infuses a Twinkie, a Ring Ding and a Hostess cupcake with unlikely dignity. All three have been bitten into, revealing their creamy innards; crumbs are scattered daintily alongside.
Alan Alejo is represented by a suite of small watercolors of brand-name candies, each presented in realistically rendered close-ups. The Burlington artist makes Life Savers, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mary Janes and Tootsie Rolls look like classical still-lifes — though with a minimalist twist.
Craft objects related to the show’s theme are included, as well. W.L. Shriner’s cake plates with circle patterns etched into their glass serve as refined counterpoints to the funky layer cake that Lisa Lillibridge has painted on an old wooden door across the room.
Unapologetic honesty on the part of many of the artists gives “Sweet!” a special appeal. In effect, each of them is saying, “Yep, I admit loving stuff that’s the opposite of health food. It tastes good, so lighten up, OK?”
There’s nothing guilty about the pleasures depicted in this show. In fact, the puritanical disdain for sugar and fat embedded in the culture of organic, locavore, vegan Vermont is deftly mocked in Jude Bond’s “Nancy Drew and the Baked Goods.” On pieces of linen hung in a vertical row, the Burlington artist shows the intrepid girl detective using a magnifying glass to scrutinize slices of pie and cake as though they were pieces of evidence at a crime scene.
Equally amusing is Roxanne Burton’s “You Are What You Sweet.” She has constructed a leaning tower of wooden doughnuts, some of them coated with white or pink paint. Dunkin’ Donuts should consider splurging on the $425 price of this piece; it would make a coolly ironic corporate logo.
The ROTFLMAO (rolling on the floor laughing my ass off) award goes to Miranda Sharp of Grand Rapids, Mich., for “Candy Daze.” Sharp paints a Lady Gaga look-alike reclining on a once-white sheet that’s stained with splotches of red food dye and the remnants of what appears to have been a pastry orgy. Eyes agog, she raises a lollipop to her lips with a hand dripping with yellowy dough. Blue-and-pink-striped wallpaper with red finger streaks serves as the backdrop to this over-the-top tableau.
Studio Place Arts director Sue Higby says she empathizes with the cartoony character in “Candy Daze.” Her own confessed addiction to pie and cake inspired Higby to organize this show. “I go way back with it,” she says. “My mother was a big baker. She’d make 45 to 60 varieties of cookies every Christmas. Really extreme. Really good.”
“Sweet!,” Studio Place Arts, Barre. Through May 26. studioplacearts.com