Sunday, August 1, 2010

Old Meets New at an Artist's Connecticut Compound

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Old Meets New at an Artist's Connecticut Compound

Michael DesRosiers's property in Lyme, Conn., was inspired by a New England village. More Photos » By JOYCE WADLER Mr. DesRosiers, holding Titus, a cockatoo. More Photos » MUCH of the architecture on the property owned by the artist Michael DesRosiers is austere: a half-dozen boxy and dark-shingled New England-style buildings laid out on what looks like a village green, evoking a place where fripperies were frowned upon and people who talked to animals (as Mr. DesRosiers does) were burned at the stake. It is easy enough, pausing in the driveway, to imagine Hester Prynne thinking, "This town is killing me." But scattered about the property, there are also playful follies — oversize birdhouses that resemble church spires, planters in the shape of stars, animal statues. Consider the greenhouse: Viewed from the driveway, its dark wall blends in with the other shingled buildings, although it is topped with an eight-pointed star, the emblem of this compound. Turn the corner of the building, which Mr. DesRosiers designed as a gift to his 80-year-old mother, who lives with him here, and you find a structure delirious in its romanticism — fantastic, glass-walled and roofed, open. There is an enormous wrought-iron birdcage topped with a wrought-iron peacock that has blue-green glass eyes; parrot sconces hang in each of the four corners. Flanking the cage are two eight-foot tiered planters, evocative of a giant's wedding cake, with elephants at the base. Just as remarkable is the elephants' provenance. "They were coffee tables that were on clearance at Pier 1," says Mr. DesRosiers, 53, who is rosy as a cherub and talks a mile a minute, like a borscht-belt comic on speed — or an artist who is finally getting some attention and fears that any minute it will go away. "I'ma guy who likes to say, 'Mind over money.' I bought, like, 30 of them. I thought they were interesting. I knew in time I would be making a plant space. Steel banding is the superstructure. I had a welder put them together." He slips into art-history speak, still talking at warp speed. "Do you know the work of Louise Nevelson? Her great insight was to take the castoffs of life and assemble it. She clothed it in black or white or silver, so the suppression of the source became the ignition for its present state of being. If you saw those coffee tables as they were originally, sort of a chocolate brown, beautiful, but you would be aware of their history rather than their personality in the present. Painting it all white and suppressing its point of origin, you are left with the experience of the present incarnation or amalgamation of this thing." It is a paradox of human nature — that is to say, another way of making ourselves crazy — that we diminish that which comes easily and torture ourselves about the elusive Something Else. Mr. DesRosiers's first love is painting: he does richly colored abstracts that resemble cells dividing. His first show, part of a three-person exhibition, "Conversations in Color," will be at the Westwood Gallery in Manhattan in September. Age 53 is not early for one's first show. But Mr. DesRosiers has spent much of his creative life on this 23-acre property, where he has lived for nearly 30 years. When he bought it, there was only one house, a 1787 farmhouse that had been moved by the previous owners from New Lebanon, Conn. Now there are six houses and studios, including the greenhouse, and outdoor gardens that have 700 meticulously shaped boxwood shrubs lined up with a precision an engineer would admire. When friends ooh and aah over the compound rather than his painting, Mr. DesRosiers admits he is annoyed. It is as if architecture is his stepchild, he says; he would prefer that visitors pay attention to his painting. Still, it is hard, getting the tour, not to ooh and aah. From the moment one arrives, there are surprises. The gates, which Mr. DesRosiers designed, are dotted with small metal stars that are echoed all over the property: on the eight-foot-high stone lanterns, on the birdhouses, on a stone birdbath. There are animal sculptures as well: giraffes, bees, snails. Even the rafters of the shed where Mr. DesRosiers and his mother store the grain to feed wildlife are decorated with wooden birds....

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