To some artists, a solo exhibition is the ultimate coup. Understandably, being the only artist whose work is on view in any given space has a certain cachet.
But two shows this month at the Fountain Street Fine Art gallery in Framingham demonstrate that sometimes one of the most interesting aspects to an exhibition is the way artists and their work play off of one another — especially when there are just two people involved.
The aesthetic relationship between the two artists can be almost as tangible a component of the display as the work being exhibited.
Heading into its final weekend at the gallery is “Materialize,” featuring new pieces by mixed-media artists Lisa Barthelson and Denise Driscoll.
Gallery cocurator Marie Craig describes the show as “visible evidence of an ongoing conversation between the two artists, their diverse materials, and the invisible, mutable boundaries of identity and idea.”
Barthelson still remembers the flash of recognition she experienced when she first saw Driscoll’s work and realized she had found an artistic soul mate of sorts.
“I was preparing to do my second show at Fountain Street and wanted to try exhibiting with someone I didn’t already know,” Barthelson said. “I asked an artist friend if anyone came to mind when she looked at my work, and she suggested Denise Driscoll. I looked at her website and could immediately relate to her work.”
Barthelson was on her way out of town for a monthlong artist’s residency, but she and Driscoll were anxious to start planning their show, so they decided to begin with a title.
“We recognized that both our bodies of work relied on using materials in interesting ways,” Barthelson said. “So we selected the title ‘materialize.’ Then we each went off to our separate studios and used that big-bucket term of ‘materialize’ to start producing.”
Barthelson, who was a landscape architect before devoting herself full time to art, has a particular interest in using household items to create her pieces — an interest that came about as her children grew older and Barthelson started purging unused possessions from the house.
“As I started trying to get rid of the kids’ toys, I was struck by how much stuff we had, and how much permanence those items bore in terms of their composition, which was mostly plastic. I took all the kids’ Duplo blocks and made a chair that I painted black. That was the start of my family debris series.”
Intrigued by her first forays into three-dimensional work, Barthelson found herself looking at household items and disposables in a new way.
“That led to my focus on bottle caps. In this show, I have a piece where bottle caps move out of the frame of the picture. And then I began to see everything as potential art-making materials: clothing, toys, outdoor debris, items from the recycling bin, Q-tips, dental floss, tea packets. The colors and shapes of the packets of the tea I drink in my studio fascinate me, so I made a piece out of tea-bag packets called ‘Stimulation.’ ’’
One interesting effect of her theme, Barthelson said, is that people who view her work offer to bring in items from their own households.
“I tell them no, that’s outside the parameters of what I am trying to do,” Barthelson said. “The point is to focus on my own family’s debris, not everyone’s.”
Driscoll also uses discarded materials, but as a way to explore larger issues.
“The common theme in all of my work is that I like to contemplate the things I cannot see and try to give them form and shape,’’ she says. “I’m interested in the inner lives we all have, as well as the part that is visual. I’m always trying to understand what’s inside of other people, what’s inside of me, what makes up that invisible universe that everyone carries around.”
As an illustration, she pointed to one of her pieces in the show, called “Repository.”
“For years, I’ve been using folded paper envelopes as a core element in my work,” she said. “I think of them as a stand-in for people and ideas. Sometimes they are empty, sometimes full. They can be clear, transparent, or opaque.”
For “Repository,” Driscoll connected pages from favorite books she owns to make a long snake-like sequence. “I wanted to show how ideas from the books we read get tangled and twisted and become part of one thing,” she said.
Working with Barthelson was a compelling process, Driscoll said. “We were uncovering our similarities as we put together the show. We discovered ways that the color or texture in one piece might call across the room to the color or texture in another.”
Two artists finding common themes in their work was also part of the process behind “Morphology,” an exhibition showcasing pieces by Jodi Colella and Kay Hartung that opens next Thursday at the Fountain Street gallery.
Hartung remembers seeing Colella’s work for the first time when the two were in a show together at the Groton Public Library a few years ago.
“Our work really resonates with each other,” Hartung said. “I’m very interested in pattern, texture, and color. My background is in fiber art; I’m used to working in textiles.”
But more recently, Hartung has been painting and drawing. One day, she saw a photo in the newspaper that she couldn’t get out of her mind.
“It was an electron microscope photo of colon cancer cells. And it was beautiful,” Hartung said. “My mother died of colon cancer when I was 19. I looked at the image of the cells in this photo and felt compelled to try to draw it.”
That led Hartung to study more electron microscope photography. “I was never trying to copy the images directly. I was just letting them feed into my mind and into my work,” she said.
Perhaps one reason Colella was drawn to Hartung’s depiction of cells is that she actually is a biologist.
“I had two loves as a kid: art and science,” Colella recalled. “I ended up in college as a bio major. I knew about halfway through that as much as I loved biology, I should have gone the art route.”
Nonetheless, Colella pursued her chosen discipline into a brief career as a lab technician in a cancer research center, before deciding to study at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her new career in graphic design lasted for two decades.
“Then finally I was able to leave that job to explore my own fine art, first through painting, then printmaking, and finally mixed-media sculpture.” she said. “Now I work in 3-D. I haven’t stopped since.”
Much of Colella’s current work involves a traditional technique called needle felting.
“I use this technique to make pieces that look like organic growing forms,” she said. “I have pieces that combine driftwood with needle felting, so it looks like the wood is flowing from its core outward. A lot of my art concerns the theme of marrow — a term that comes from cell biology but connotes the core of your identity and who you are. I do a lot of pieces that look very cellular and organic.”
And it doesn’t bother Colella at all that Hartung has no scientific training behind her pieces.
“She finds inspiration in the shapes and metaphors of cellular biology,” Colella said. “We play off of each other very well. From my point of view, who would not love the natural organic designs that nature provides?”
“Materialize” is on exhibit at Fountain Street Fine Art, 59 Fountain St. in Framingham, through Sunday. “Morphology” opens next Thursday and runs through June 23, with a reception on June 8 from 5 to 7 p.m. and an artists’ talk on June 14 at 7:30 p.m. For hours and more information, call 508-879-4200 or go to www.fountainstreetfineart.com.
CLASSICAL CAST: On Sunday at 2 p.m., the Handel and Haydn Society’s Period Instrument Orchestra will perform in Daniel Chester French Hall at the Concord Museum, 53 Cambridge Turnpike in Concord.
Inspired by Thoreau’s flute in the Concord Museum collection, the concert features works for flute and strings, including Mozart’s Flute Quartet No. 1.
Tickets are $25, $20 for museum members, and include admission to the museum and its special exhibition “Early Spring: Henry Thoreau and Climate Change.’’
Order tickets or get more information at www.concordmuseum.org or by calling 978-369-9763.
HEALING MUSIC: The Virginia Thurston Healing Garden in Harvard presents a reggae group, the Wicked Hangin’ Chads, at an outdoor concert (indoors if raining) on Sunday at 3 p.m.
The event is part of a monthly series of music and dance performances hosted by the Healing Garden, a nonprofit organization at 145 Bolton Road. It offers support, educational and therapeutic services to those affected by cancer.
Admission is $15, or $10 for Healing Garden members, with the proceeds supporting the organization. Visit www.healinggarden.net for event updates or cancellations.
YOUTH CONCERT: The Friends of the Marlborough Public Library present the Marlborough Saxophone Quartet performing in a Yacyshyn Concert Series event at 7 p.m. next Wednesday.
The 16th annual Anick Young People’s Performing Arts Festival concert will be held in the library’s Bigelow Auditorium, at 35 West Main St.
For more information on the free event, visit www.mpl-friends.org.
WALK BACK IN TIME: The Wellesley Historical Society will lead a walking tour entitled “How Transportation Shaped Wellesley” at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The 90-minute tour, recommended for adults and teens, will begin at the society’s headquarters, 229 Washington St. (at routes 9 and 16) in Wellesley Hills.
The fee is $5, or free for Wellesley Historical Society members. For more information or to reserve a place in the walk, call the society at 781-235-6690, or go to www.wellesleyhistoricalsociety.org.
Send ideas to nancyswest@ gmail.com. Please include the date of the event in the subject line.