Dmitri Wright had a variety of artistic influences, all of them different in their approaches and their aesthetic: some straitlaced, some beatniks, some impressionists, some abstract expressionists. Wright's exhibit now on the walls at Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury reflects this variety of inspirations.
Wright's early portraits on one wall bear little resemblance to the dark blue nocturnes on another wall. Across the gallery from those nocturnes are impressionist en plein air landscapes, wildly colored like the fauvists, dominated by cotton-candy pink and canary yellow. The paintings seem to have been created by different artists.
"You can kind of see this weaving, like two rivers that separate and blend and separate and blend and separate," says Wright in a phone interview from his home in Greenwich.
In addition to being a painter, Wright is an instructor at Weir Farm in Wilton, one of only two national parks dedicated to art history. An approach Wright uses when teaching at Weir Farm affects his own work.
"During classes I bring a prism. ... When you look at nature from that point of view, you shift your palette because you start to see rainbows in everything."
He cited a quote by Carl Sagan, "The cosmos is within us. We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself."
"That adds a mystical approach to looking at the world. There is wonder. There is a childlike quality," Wright says. "You paint from your sensations, not just your eyes. You should be able to smell and actually taste the air, and to feel things."
The retrospective covers work created in the early '70s — when those portraits were his calling card — to 2017. One painting was finished just three weeks before the show opened, says curator Cynthia Roznoy. In the middle are those nocturnes, which Wright created after he moved to Greenwich. After growing up in the projects in Newark, N.J., and going to college in New York City, Greenwich was quite a change.
"I was very much impressed with light, specifically the low light of twilight and dawn. There were so many colors happening at that particular time," he says.
Mattatuck has two other new exhibits. The small first-floor gallery The Lab features "Ùtútù," an installation by Nnenna Okore that incorporates imagery and influences from Nigeria, where she grew up. The exhibit title is the Nigerian word for "morning" or "something new." The piece, in black-dyed burlap and red-dyed ropes made from newspaper, can be interpreted as a commentary on warfare, a commentary on motherhood or a commentary on both, relating to whether it's wise to bring children into a violent world.
Scattered throughout the museum are artworks in an exhibit "#IBelieveInWaterbury," which shows work by 40 artists paying homage to the city in photographs, paintings and sculptures. The most charming piece is a brass-colored sculpture on the roof of a sewer worker, who seems to be saying "yoo-hoo" to the visitors in the museum looking across at him.
MATTATUCK MUSEUM is at 144 West Main St. in Waterbury. mattmuseum.org.