Drawing Eyes Closed



As I walk into the Vault Gallery in Great Barrington, housed in the former Mahaiwe Bank building, there’s a photo shoot going on, some French jazz, various people milling about, directions being given and flashbulbs going off.

This is a welcoming place. For, despite the busyness, I’m asked several times if I would like help or information.

The gallery is small and a bit quirky; quotes are painted on the walls; chairs are arranged for tete-a-tetes and potted orchids lend both beauty and color. Then there’s that vault — yes, there is a vault, in all its vault glory, serving as the smaller room of this two-room gallery.

And soon enough I am in conversation with Marilyn Kalish, the gallery’s proprietor, whose “Sensuality of Dance” series is currently on display.

Kalish’s work is all about energy, and movement. A year or so ago she was drawing birds; now she’s drawing and painting dancers — dancers in the process of leaping, twirling, swooping. Not, she is quick to point out, Degas-like dancers, posing.

While Kalish’s current obsession is dancers, which she starts by viewing at nearby Jacob’s Pillow, it’s not dance itself that draws her. It’s the physics of energy and movement.

“But I can’t paint physics. I’m interested in movement.”
Still, “I’ve been surprised at the impact [of the dancers],” she says. “Whether we know a dancer, or we’ve danced . . . we all have connections.”

As she did with the birds, and as she is now doing with horses in her studio around the corner in the St. James Episcopal Church building, Kalish starts by drawing with her eyes closed, clutching fistfuls of pencils in each hand, moving her arms around the canvas or the paper freely, wildly, slow, then fast, feeling, rather than seeing the movement. The process, she says, “stops me from censoring. I get out of my own way.”

At this point, the work is a “huge doodle…it feels very organic. I get up close and I feel it. I can smell it.”

Then, “at some point I drop the pencils.” She opens her eyes, walks away from the work for a while and “then I sit back, and I just see them” (the dancers, in the drawings she’s made). “Then I edit.” Kalish likens the process to a sculptor, chipping away at a mass of stone; she erases from a mass of markings. The process allows her, says Kalish, to let go in a way that she can’t if she’s watching what she does as she does it. “If I open my eyes I’m not going to let go,” she says. “I’ll tidy it up much too quickly.”

Several of the drawings on view are on canvas, with oil, but most are executed on glass beaded panels, which are set away from the wall and scroll down, lending an impression of loose paper; the fall of the panel lends the work an added sense of movement, energy and yes, elusiveness. And yet, “It has a memory,” says Kalish of the panels.

Kalish was working pretty much in a palette of neutrals, combining the charcoal with shades of white and gray — “and I was happy there”— when someone asked her about her “aversion” to color. “So, I thought ‘You want color? Okey, Dokey." The result is a powerful series of dancers drawn in black on vivid crimson canvases.

Kalish has gone through periods making abstract art, and while her dancers are representative, they are not specific. “I’m trying to walk the line,” she says. “Absolute realism is not an interest of mine. My goal is ambiguity.”

While the works in Kalish’s gallery are ever-changing — she shows about 10 artists on a regular basis — her works will be on the walls for a while. Along with her dancers are sculptures by Leonard Baskin and a group of wonderful black-and-white photographs by renowned international photographer Clemens Kalisher. Despite the similar name, Kalisher is not a relative but a friend, who several years ago gave Kalish her first area show in his Stockbridge gallery, The Image Gallery.

Kalisher, who as a boy escaped Nazi Germany with his family, shows photographs that are beautiful and often poignant.

The Vault also displays works in various spots around town, including the Berkshire Bank and Castle Street Café. The Vault Gallery is at 322 Main St., at the corner of Castle Street, Great Barrington.

It is open daily, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tel: 413-644-0221

© Copyright by