An artist all my life, I have sought to explore diverse ideas in many media: oil, pastel, graphite, collage, faux finish, gilding, and bronze. I began a career in the mid-sixties, when abstract expressionism was the norm, at least in New York, where I was living (and still do). Even way back then I did not follow that prevailing trend, and started down a long road to understanding my view of the natural world.
The works shown on this site date from about 2000. After a hiatus from the art world I occupied in the seventies and eighties, showing primarily landscapes in New York galleries, I began sculpting small weird animals in clay, which were cast in bronze, some of which are shown here. Larger bronzes followed, many based on the Leaf form: anthropomorphic in nature. The culmination of my bronze age was a large bronze fountain, Quantum Leaf: now permanently installed in downtown Des Moines.
Anthropomorphic Leaf drawings followed that series and can be seen as a further embellishment and more complex approach to my examination of this form. Encounters in the Natural World carries this exploration further in paintings which are reflective of moments in time.
Paintings from the Perimeter, a body of work executed in the year 2010-2011, were prompted by the Rising of the New World Trade Center. They are also meant as a view of our resilience in the face of an unspeakable horror. I wanted to capture the optimism, the reflections of upward motion on the facades of buildings and cars around the site. The works were exhibited in New York on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and are also shown in book form with the same title, now being sold at the 9/11 Memorial and also on this site. Please click on the Paintings From The Perimeter book section.
Pot and Mirror
8" x 10"
Oil on board
Enter the Galleries Page to view Sally's new
Still Life Series 2012-2013
Paintings: Still Lifes 2012
Paintings: Encounters in the Natural World
Paintings From The Perimeter: the Rise of the New World Trade Center
Drawings: Anthropomorphic Leaf Drawings
Sculptures: Quantum Leaf
Sculptures: Lightning Tree
Sculptures: Anthropomorphic Leaf Sculptures
Born: March 22, 1942
Cleveland Institute of Art
Sarah Lawrence College
New Paintings / September 19, 2009 - October 21, 2009
The Ober Gallery
4 Old Barn Rd
Kent, CT 06757
This exhibition of oil paintings by Sally Vagliano Pettus is both a new departure and a return to roots. Pettus, whose career as a painter of woodland scenes burgeoned in the 1980s, took a long furlough from brush and oil with the dawn of the millennium. From 2000 until the day before yesterday, she devoted herself largely to sculpture, creating two remarkable series of bronzes. One is a sort of bestiary, a group of miniature fantasy creatures in which playfulness and psychological piquancy compete for the viewer's attention. The second group of bronzes are in effect portraits of leaves, tree branches, and tree trunks. I say "portraits" because Pettus managed to instill these reminders of fecundity and decay with an unforgettable individuality and pathos. Ranging in size from four or five inches to a dozen feet or more, these beautifully crafted objects beguile the eye even as they sound a somber, autumnal note.
That doubleness--a seductive, aesthetically pleasing surface in tandem with meditative poignancies--is a hallmark of Pettus's work. This new series of oils continues to exploit that doubleness. Viewers familiar with Pettus's work from the 1980s will notice many continuities. There is the obvious similarity of ostensible subject matter, for example. We are once again trekking along woodland paths. There is a similarity of palette, too, which features certain highly saturated greens modulated by a spectrum of burnished yellows, tawny browns, grays, and a hundred shades of lichen white and silver, punctuated by black traceries and the occasional thunderbolt of iridescent orange.
A deeper continuity involves the subject behind the subject. Although Pettus's nature scenes (the ones I recall, anyway) include no people or any emblems of human habitation, they have always seemed, curiously, to be inhabited--or perhaps I should "to have been inhabited." In Burnt Norton, T. S. Eliot spoke of roses that "Had the look of flowers that are looked at." Pettus communicates something similar in her paintings. The wooded path, the fallen branch, the floating leaf are part of an encompassing natural cycle that conspicuously includes humanity. Another doubleness: that humanity subsists both as an observer that transcends the parade on view and also as a participant in that parade, that passing. "Leaves like the things of man you with your fresh thoughts care for," as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it in "Spring and Fall." Ultimately, though, "It is Margaret you mourn for."
But for all the continuities one sees in Pettus's art, these paintings also mark a new departure. Visually, the most striking departure concerns the scale of the objects pictured. It is as if Pettus came to the easel with a magnifying glass. We have zoomed in on these trees, these leaves, these wild plants. But they are seen not under a microscope but what we might call a macroscope. There is a certain formal distillation going on in many of these paintings, a schematization of what is portrayed. If "abstraction" were not such a fraught word in writing about art I would say that these paintings also bespoke an increase in abstraction in comparison with their older cousins. There persists a natural sumptuousness in these pictures (consider, for example, "Forty-Five Leaves","Daffodil", or "Autumn Tapestry"), but it is a drier, more stately, less cluttered sumptuousness.
In part, there is the common recognition that just as every spring contains the seeds of the winter that will follow, so every winter includes the dream of future springs. But there is something more. The immediate pleasure one takes in these paintings--the fact, to put it bluntly, that they are beautiful and very well-executed works of art--betokens part of the contending buoyancy I have in mind. Art has traditionally been seen as a refuge, however temporary, against the ravages of time. And so it is. But ultimately what makes these pictures so fetching is the recognition they embody that time is not only the thief of every human aspiration and achievement. It is also the precondition for every human success. Time is the great provider as well as the great devourer.
It is enough that Sally Pettus has given us this magnificent suite of paintings. What an added bonus that they should be as deep, and deeply felt, as they are aesthetically bewitching.
Roger Kimball is Editor of The New Criterion and Publisher of Encounter Books.
2007 Peter Findlay Gallery, NYC
2000 Peter Findlay Gallery, NYC
1988 Katarina Rich Perlow Gallery, NYC
1986 Katarina Rich Perlow Gallery, NYC
1985 A.M. Sachs Gallery, NYC
1982 A.M. Sachs Gallery, NYC
1981 A.M. Sachs Gallery, NYC
1980 A.M. Sachs Gallery, NYC
1979 A.M. Sachs Gallery, NYC
Peter Findlay Gallery, New York 2000 through 2007
Paris, New York, Kent Gallery, Kent, CT 1992, 1994
Elaine Bensen Gallery, Bridgehampton, NY 1987, 1989
A.M. Sachs Gallery, NYC 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio 1984
Greene Space, Syracuse University, NY 1984
Honey Sharpe Gallery, Lenox, Mass 1982
McNay Art Institute, San Antonio, TX 1980, 1981
Weatherspoon Gallery, University of N. Carolina, Greensboro 1980
Guild Hall, East Hampton, NY 1980
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY 1979
A.J. Wood Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 1979
The Deck Gallery, West Cornwall, CT 1979
SCAF Invitational, Sharon, CT 1977, 1979
Fischbach Gallery, NYC 1977
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Amerada Hess Corporation
Chicopee Manufacturing Co.
Commerce Bank, Kansas City
Davis, Polk, & Wardwell
Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa
First International Bank, Houston
General Mills, Inc.
Lehman Bros. Kuhn Loeb Inc.
Melva Bucksbaum / Raymond Learsy
Mobay Chemical Co.
Prudential Insurance Co.
R.J. Reynolds Corp.
Western Electric Co.
Front cover of Paintings From The Perimeter
Anticipating the 10th anniversary of 9/11,
The new World Trade Center rises,
And Time stops briefly.
In these Paintings From The Perimeter,
Small events, almost unnoticed,
Reveal the great effort
Before the site is completed,
And the cranes depart.
Price $20 / Pages: 34
The book is available in the: 9/11 Memorial, at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan
The book is also available here on the website through our secure PayPal account.
This is a visual memoir: paintings that depict the rising of the towers of Ground Zero in the year 2010-2011.
The artist Sally Pettus was working from a studio on Greenwich Street, just south of the Ground Zero site, at the moment the rebuilding effort began in earnest after many years of bureaucratic stagnation. The year 2010 begins with hints of steel grids now rising above the surrounding protective fence. The area became electric with chaotic sounds of construction, and the tourists and natives were mesmerized by the implications of the scene as they crowded the nearby sidewalks.
As 2010 ended and 2011 began, the towers, Freedom Tower (Tower One) and Tower Four, on the southeast corner, were stretching for the sky. The Memorial was nearly finished. The anniversary of the 9/11 attack was fast approaching, and the work seemed to double in intensity.
Sally Pettus walked the perimeter of this vast site, finding unique points of view. She invested the paintings with the conflicting feelings inherent in this essentially worldwide project. There are elements of optimism reflected in the polished surfaces like granite and glass: the ghostly vision of cranes perched atop the towers, mirroring the upward effort. There are jangling moments: images of stark beams shining and distorted in the windows of parked cars. And there are moments of peace, which feature graveyards with headstones of the long-departed, bearing witness to the symbols of human resilience.
This visual moment in time memorializes the 10th anniversary of the attack. The paintings will hold that moment for those who have been there, and will give those from afar an idea of this extraordinary experience. All will realize this moment will never again be the same. The paintings are haunting, yet sure. The colors are muted, yet striking. This book ends with a painting of the graveyard at St. Paul's Chapel, a shelter for the brave first-responders. The text reads:
In summer sun and shadow
The stones keep vigil-
The cranes now dwarfed
By bright leaves
The gleaming new face
Of Freedom Tower.
*NYC.IT, December 2011 issue, article by Elettra Battini.