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35th Hygienic Art Show brings hundreds of artists to downtown New London

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published January 25. 2014 2:00PM   Updated January 26. 2014 8:09AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Lauren 'Zeal' Levine spins fire poi at the Ice Carnival taking place in the art park during opening night of Hygienic Art XXXV Salon des Indépendants at the Hygienic Art Galleries in New London Saturday.

New London — Revelers with a taste for art — kitschy, quirky and otherwise — filed through the Hygienic Art Galleries on Bank Street for hours Saturday night, shuffling past walls and middle-of-the-room spaces well crammed with pieces to whet all kinds of palates.

Wine — and heat — were abundant, too.

The 35th annual Hygienic show promised to be special from the start, as Hygienic board member and event mainstay James Stidfole looked outside shortly after 7 a.m. to see artists already lined up for what was supposed to be an 8 a.m. registration opening.

"It was so cold, I just said 'Kristin, just open the door,'" Stidfole said, referring to event volunteer Kristin Gates.

Gates, Sherry Stidfole and other volunteers behind the counter were busy throughout the day registering artists and offering hanging wire, a hammer, nails and anything else they needed to hang their pieces.

Artists this year registered 363 pieces for the show, which usually draws more than 400 works of art, visual commentary or political satire.

At one point, someone called Stidfole and asked if an 8-foot piece could be displayed. Two hours into registration time, he doubted there would be enough wall space available for such a piece.

But Dorothy Hall, 72, and her granddaughter, Gracie Benson, 19, of Bolton, weren't discouraged when they arrived at about 10 a.m., both with fairly large paintings. "We don't do anything small," said Hall, who has been exhibiting at the Hygienic for about 30 years.

Benson, a Hygienic rookie, was first to hang her "Swirly Teapot," but when the curved wall posed difficulties for her grandmother's larger piece, the two switched places. Hygienic has few rules, but one of them is that an artist cannot move another artist's work once it has been displayed.

Hall's work featured a black drawing of an intricately patterned doily at the right of the canvas, and destructive bright orange flames to the left. "Blast of the Past" was meant to show that the skill of past generations to create doilies is disappearing.

"Everyone's grandmother used to make these," she said.

Chris DeBiasi chose a spot above a painting of a giant bloodshot eye to hang his wife's elegant photo close-up of the tail light and tailfin of an antique Cadillac, titled "American Dream." Stephanie DeBiasi of Waterford printed the photo on metal, making it as shiny as the car would have been. She has been displaying works at the Hygienic for years, but this was her first photo-on-metal.

DeBiasi talked up the Hygienic to fellow amateur photographer Aaron D. Howe of Glastonbury, to the point where he decided to put in his own piece this year. Howe left the shutter open on his camera to capture the movements of a dancer at his daughter's recent recital. He printed it on canvas for a look that could be mistaken for a painting.

Glancing around at the variety of art amassing in the two-story gallery, Howe found inspiration for his own work.

"I've been taking photos since high school," said Howe, 43. "I've never done anything with them. This is ramping me up here."

Stidfole was pleased with the variety Saturday, but looking around, quickly added: "We need more nudity. We need more political stuff. Come on, people, don't you pay attention to what's happening in the world?"

Stidfole found himself on display on one wall, a charcoal portrait of his face and trademark wild white hair by Roger Beers. Stidfole liked the piece, and said he didn't know the artist. He regularly poses for local art schools in the region.

The title of Hygienic resident artist Kim Abraham's painting "Say No to Pot" could lead you to believe it is a political or social commentary. But the piece depicts two lobsters dancing in a sea of green. Abraham used the lobster theme from the Hygienic's past as a restaurant as her inspiration.

Abraham and seven other residents of the upper stories of the Hygienic building opened their own show Saturday night across the street at Expressiones Cultural Center, also taking from the Hygienic's theme "Salon des Independants" for their show "Salon de Co-dependientes," signifying that these artists depend on the Hygienic for a place to live and work, Abraham said.

c.bessette@theday.com

Staff writer Brian Hallenbeck contributed to this report.

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