I set out with intrepid museum buddies A and L last rainy Sunday for the tenth annual Somerville Open Studios. Like us, the SOS has expanded with age. There were 350 artists and 120 sites across Somerville. We chose to start with Vernon Street Studios, two large buildings with about 75 artists between them, and then meandered around Highland avenue, dropping on on Jade Moran Jewelry, Ruchika Madan’s pottery shop and Beads Without End in vain search for the perfect mothers day gifts. (As usual, I sent a novel to mom, hoping its not the same one she intends to give my for my birthday)

Back to Vernon Street. We saw a stunning array of work from inspiring to insipid, but almost all of it quite fresh, and even affordable as original art goes. Here’s my top five in alphabetical order:

Ariel Freiberg – Large paintings of lascivious women with a wicked sense of humor and great hot colors with surprising passages of white. She writes, “My work has developed by observing women who express their sexuality in the most candid and explicit fashions. So superficial and promiscuous are we, so determined to drag into the light what might thrive better under the bushes, that sex has lost much of its relish. But what we see in the beautiful bodies paraded in front of our eyes isn’t sex but the shadow play of sexiness. At its fullest, sex is erratic and raw, truly mind shattering.” I’m a big fan of anybody who pairs nudes with cake. Freiberg was also the friendliest studio hostess, greeting people much more enthusiastically than most open studio artists.

Colleen Kiely – Creepily sweet kitsch-inspired dog portraits, intricate pencil drawings of semi trailers on paper doilies, and more peculiar juxtapositions of vernacular with disciplined technique. “Working with imagery from vernacular visual culture, these paintings investigate aesthetic and class boundaries, contradictory definitions of beauty and the complexity of sentimentality in painting. The sources of inspiration for this work are found in drugstore gift items, greeting cards, the devotional imagery of Catholicism and the history of western painting.”

David Palmquist – Operating from the other side of the brain from Kiely and Freiberg, Palmquist appeals to my cartography fetish with neat paintings inspired by satellite photos of suburban sprawl and the grids of urban design. “I enjoy a certain predilection for order; this tends to carry over into my paintings in the form of graphing, pixilation, and exaggerated definition. I am drawn to images that lend themselves to being segregated into smaller divisions or to images that when taken out of scale, reveal a more dramatic and surreal reality. Further, I enjoy working with abstract geometric forms, am drawn to the purity of modern design, and am fascinated by observations on how well or poorly manifested ideals exist within reality.” But he’s not all square – check out the droll work called “Terms of Use Kitty” on his site.

Heather Pilchard – Arguably the most traditional of my five, Pilchard makes landscape paintings that are all about the special light of Cape Cod. I don’t see what must be her newest work on her site, but at open studios she showed several works that used audacious strokes of seemingly unmixed orange to great effect in sunset skies. “I like to think of my work as a place where careful observations of the natural world and inner vision meet. Through color and patterns I hope to recapture a glimmer of recognition of a moment. The challenge for me is to create an illusion of space using color and minimal detail. By layering the paint in thin undercoats, the painting surface glows with life. On one hand, finding formulas to make an illusion of topography is what I am doing, but until I invest an emotional connection to the work it doesn’t have the spark. If it were otherwise, than why not just take a photograph? The paintings tend to have a certain amount of vagueness of actually geography, which gives the viewer space to add their own stories and meaning.” We also love her white birch box frames. I wonder where she gets them.

Tova Speter – The hallway outside Speter’s studio was hung with two huge wooden doors. If you had the guts to open them (people are generally averse to touching what might be “art” on the walls) you’d see her delightful overpainting of the wood grain, a simple but surprisingly engaging method. She writes, “I am drawn in and mesmerized by the artistic process through which the imagination is visually realized. Seeking to expose the obvious that is often overlooked; I use color to offer a glimpse into the amazing natural beauty that may otherwise remain unseen. In my current work, I utilize found wood as a conduit for an exploration of the energy found within. The grain serves as my guide on a journey into the lines, shapes, and flow of the composition of the wood.” Sorry I almost stole the only copy of your price list, Tova, but I’m still thinking of commissioning a work, if I can just find the right plywood.

It’s almost a year to the next Somerville open studios, but don’t let that stand in your way. Check out artists websites, get in touch, invite yourself to their studios, maybe buy something. You won’t be sorry.