Louis Risoli and Peter Vanderwaker

At Gallery NAGA

By: - Mar 04, 2023

Following the work over a number of decades, Louis Risoli has been among Boston’s foremost artists. He is long overdue for a museum restrospective.

My interest started with the remarkable, and at the time daunting, Muscle Men series. With thick paint and abstracted forms the bulked male anatomy was treated with both Pop candor and irony as well as layered admiration.

That evolved in a number of phases and exhibitions into patterned abstract paintings with impasto textured surfaces. A trope was the love of exploring the materials, density and impact of richly saturated and lavishly applied pigment. A constant was vibrancy of surface for the gaze to languish over.

For a time I knew the artist well and saw the work in all its nuances quite regularly.

We were a part of the movement of artists that formed a growing community in what was then the cheap and affordable mixed ethnic community of East Boston.

As is often the case communities which artists pioneer and develop become fashionable and price out artists.

Back in the day Louis and his then partner, Michael Beauchemin, used their loft space at Maverick Square as a gallery. There were lively openings where guests navigated around a large sculpture by Ralph Helmick which dominated the space.

There were other artist run galleries including my own Maverick Arts which was sited at 82 Webster Street.

It was a lively era with a comforting sense of artistic community. It’s as close as Boston ever came to having its own Montmartre. There were wonderful ethic restaurants which I sorely miss living now in the Berkshires.

Louis, an impeccably mannered and gracious gentleman, had an interesting day gig. Well night actually, as maitre d’ at the exquisite, Back Bay restaurant L’Espalier. An authority on cheese Louis acquired it for the restaurant during trips to Europe. After some 40 years the landmark closed in 2018.

Working at night allowed for days in the studio. He also taught at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly.

 Things change and we all move on but with a soupcon of lingering nostalgia for our bohemian days in Eastie.

This month Louis is showing at Gallery Naga. What follows is the press release from the gallery where he has shown for many years.

Louis Risoli: From Wish to Dream to Hope

Peter Vanderwarker: The Language of Landscape

March 10 – April 1, 2023 at Gallery NAGA

March begins with what may seem an unlikely pairing of two artists working in opposing mediums: Louis Risoli a painting practice in the studio in response to landscapes experienced over time and Peter Vanderwarker a photograph of a given moment in time.  Look a little closer and you see how each artist approaches their subject matter in a similar way. 

Louis Risoli: From Wish to Dream to Hope and Peter Vanderwarker: The Language of Landscape are both on exhibition from March 10 through April 1.  A reception for the artists and the public will be held at the gallery on Friday, March 10 from 5 to 7 pm.  A walk-through with both artists will be held at the gallery on Saturday, March 25 at 2 pm.  Reservations are not required.

Risoli began his career painting large abstract forms on shaped canvases.  In the last decade, he has abandoned the shaped canvases in exchange for rectangular surfaces onto which he paints landscapes overlaid with swirling and twirling lines.  The landscapes, often based on the woods near his home in suburban Boston, become intersected with floating shapes but continue to read as a whole.  In a statement for the exhibition, Risoli writes about the experience of bringing the landscape into the studio.

Working on a stained canvas cut through with swirled lines running from top to bottom, I paint a small section, 3 or so inches square, bringing it to finished paint. Then, working more or less left to right, bottom to top, I paint the next section and then the next. With the exception of minor adjustments, when all sections have been filled, the painting is done. In effect, I am mimicking how we see - in small details, which in our brain may coalesce into a big picture. Each section I paint has the immediacy of being itself, as well as being ultimately part of a bigger painting.

The swirls both interrupt and seemingly interact with the painted image. I am frequently asked about their meaning and offered possible explanations. Rising energy? The spirit of the place? A formal device to force the viewer to engage with what is beyond? Yikes, I don’t know. I'm just the painter.

Wishing and dreaming and hoping and making it up as I go along, coupled with a curiosity to see what will come of it all, seems to be my impetus for making a painting. Sunlight and shadow and verticals and pine needles and sky are the working tools. Connection is the goal.

Peter Vanderwarker has made a career of photographing for clients’ architectural structures while at the same time maintaining an increasingly complex trove of personal, fine art photography. 

This current exhibition is a careful selection of eight photographs exploring natural and unnatural formations in the landscape.  Whether Vanderwarker shoots a close-up of rockweed floating above a puzzle of rocks in the shallow Maine waters or an aerial shot of erosion resistant rock in Utah, he bewilders the viewer by shifts in scale and careful cropping.  One is not sure what they are looking at.  Is the subject matter larger than Vanderwarker himself and therefore shot aerially or is it so miniscule that he is shooting in macro?

Other photographs explore the human interference on the landscape.  Wellfleet, Massachusetts portrays a series of manmade clam and oyster beds in preparation for harvesting.  The harvest blocks of oranges, blues, and magentas stand proud of the tonal gray of the sand incongruous with everything around them. 

Vanderwarker chooses locations where he finds new and interesting subjects as well as places other artists have worked.  Lately, he’s been admiring the landscape paintings of Thomas Cole, who, in Vanderwarker’s words give us, “redemption, salvation, rebirth, sustainability, and forgiveness.”  Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, a portrait of two mountain peaks shrouded in darkness as the sun rises from behind, was taken after Vanderwarker discovered a painting by Cole of the same location. 

Thomas Cole painted this view of Crawford Notch in 1828.  As an artist, Cole wanted Americans to realized that their new world was more than real estate to be exploited—it was a source of spiritual salvation.  In the words of historian Thomas Hughes, “If the American landscape was to be a church, then the landscape artists were its clergy.”

One morning, on a trip to Crawford Notch, I got up before dawn to see what kind of day it would be.  I was treated to a sky I had never seen before - no clouds, just slate gray merging to a soft peach glow of a dawn yet to come.  There was just enough light to see Echo Lake and the antique railway station that still serves the Notch.  It is hard to go to places like this and not be moved.

 Images of both artists’ work can be found at