Art galleries have a somewhat unfair reputation for being unapproachable and designed for a niche audience, but for Marta Staudinger and Christine Olmstead’s “Coalesce” exhibition, the opposite could not have been truer.
As I stepped into The Bryne Gallery in quaint Middleburg, Virginia, I felt enveloped in a warm, golden embrace that seemed to reflect off the various art pieces around the room and what I saw were vibrant creations from Staudinger and Olmstead that felt youthful and energetic without feeling overwhelming.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the exhibition, though, was that both artists had incredibly distinctive styles of abstract painting, but they didn’t clash; Staudinger and Olmstead’s styles “coalesced” in a way that allowed each artist to stand out but still feel like one in the same, much like telling the same story from different points of view.
With such different styles, I wondered how the two decided to create art together. Staudinger admits that the thought never really crossed their minds until they kept finding themselves being connected through their art: they were commissioned to create a piece each that was meant to complement each other, then Olmstead had an exhibition in Staudinger’s gallery in DC.
It was there that “the man who hung our works from that [aforementioned] commission for this corporate client is one of the co-owners of the gallery and he saw a lot of synergy between our work,” Staudinger says.
It also helps that when the two started this project together over the summer, they agreed to use the same color palette: mostly earthy tones like greens, blues, reds with bolder colors like copper and gold.
Staudinger’s take on the palette included works that often felt like looking at a landscape with lots of use of texture, straight lines and panels of color with names for the pieces like “Turquoise Pearl Frost” and “On Cloud 9.”
A standout of Staudinger’s was a largely white canvas with four deep red vertical strokes named “Catalunya,” a statement piece that incorporates elements of the Catalan flag and history.
Olmstead’s interpretation of the agreed-upon color palette was much more flowy and softer than Staudinger’s, but still with glimpses of boldness and texture as well. And where Staudinger’s pieces looked like staring into the distance, Olmstead’s felt close and personal, almost like a zoomed-in look at a flower. Each of Olmstead’s pieces had names that started with “Don’t Stop” and ended in multiple variations like “Don’t Stop 16” and “Don’t Stop Making Mistakes” – little reminders for herself, Olmstead says, to never stop looking for the goodness in life and growing as a person.
One of Olmstead’s standout pieces (perhaps not surprisingly next to Staudinger’s “Catalunya”) was “Don’t Stop Seeing the Light,” a canvas of light blues and greys as the backgrounds with layers of reds, browns and coppers built on top, slightly less big than the layer before to create a focal point of sorts. The final touch was dashes of gold flake paint that acted like cracks of light breaking through the grey.
“I ended up gravitating more towards some colors and Marta gravitated a little more towards other,” Olmstead says. “I think you can see that they’re all in the same palette but her works maybe have a little more of one color and mine tend to have a little bit more of another.”
While the two artists had different takes on and inspirations for their individual works, Staudinger says they shared an overall design for the exhibition, although an unusual one; instead of a curator seeking them out to feature a series of their works, they “created these pieces together to be site specific,” Staudinger says.
But that was where their collaborating in-person roughly ended – each piece they created was made in their separate work spaces in different towns. The two wouldn’t see each other’s finished works until they would meet at the gallery to set up the exhibition.
And so we all found ourselves in a small gallery in the middle of rural Virginia with two artists who’s styles are wildly different, and yet complimentary. After listening to people’s conversations around the room, and seeing for myself, I’d say we all agree that whatever creative spark Staudinger and Olmstead share, we want more collaboration between them in the future.
“I love that we’ve been able to share experiences and vulnerabilities and techniques and formulas…without really bleeding into each other’s styles,” Olmstead says. “The pieces look so different and we both have very distinct styles [but] our pieces are of the same soul and of the same flavor because, as Marta said, we are people of the same flavor.”
Check out Staudinger and Olmstead’s “Coalesce” exhibition at The Byrne Gallery in Middleburg, Virginia. The exhibition run’s until November 4.
The Byrne Gallery: 7 W Washington St. Middleburg, VA; 540-687-6986; www.byrnegallery.com