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  • Carol Taylor-Kearney

Time Passages: Paintings by Michael Kowbuz and Allison Syvertsen | November 1 – 26, 2017. Artist ta

Cerulean Gallery is presenting a collection of jewel-like paintings representing familiar urban scenes, even some urban decay, from two very different perspectives.

"Side Window" by Michael Kowbuz at Cerulean Gallery, Philadelphia.
"Playground Rainbow" by Allison Syvertsen at Cerulean Gallery, Philadelphia.

For Michael Kowbuz the perspective comes from light: the light of the moment, the light caught by the camera, the light that creates a mood of mystery and a sense of memory. For Allison Syvertsen the perspective comes from form: the geometry of lines and shapes whose colors move the eye along the picture plane like a maze. Both artists found inspiration through their daily travels in the neighborhoods of their city, Philadelphia. And although much of the subject matter seems shared, their distinct approaches to materials, technique, and color leads to vastly differing results.

Kowbuz is using film noir lighting -- not so much to expose cynicism or menace -- as an individual moment, a personal glance, a means of moving in and out of focus toward a featured area of light or color. He is painterly in his application of inks, watercolor, and gouache, saving the whites of his paper as flashpoints of light. The shadows, too, become opportunities. Because of the varying degree of transparency

"Blinds" by Michael Kowbuz at Cerulean Arts, Philadelphia.

/opacity and sheen in the materials used, the dark areas change not only in value but in texture from thick to thin, shiny to matte; velvet next to leather next to satin. I want to run my finger over the painting. There is also a slightly out-of-focus quality to some of the work like “Blinds” and “Side Window” creating the sensation one gets when first stepping out into bright light or suddenly finding oneself in a dark room. This lends itself well to the sense of “moment”: a moment of time or a moment of interest.

"Window View" by Allison Syvertsen at Cerulean Gallery, Philadelphia.

Syvertsen also uses gouache. The thing to know about gouache is that it is opaque, unlike watercolor, and has a matte finish. That is not to say that you cannot layer with gouache, but the effects are very different: gouache leads to a more unified surface. And Syvertsen uses this quality of gouache to block out and unify sections of her paintings to great result. But these outcomes can be quite different. In pieces like “Playground Rainbow”, she uses horizontal bands that stretch from side-to-side to create a space of foreground (a pinkish, warm base), middle ground (a neutral gray area), and background (a blue, cool sky). Connected to the foreground are the changing color lines of the assorted monkey bars and other equipment. Although there is a shadow depicted, the time of day or season does not particularly strike me. I am more aware of the block shapes and colors—crisp, clean, finely delineated. This impression is also apparent in “Window View”, a scene of rooftops presumably out of the artist’s window. But here, three-quarters of the composition is made of warmish rectangles with the top area a solid cool blue sky reminding me of Paul Klee’s landscapes and villages. It is more of a cubist composition as opposed to the journalistic report evidenced in some of her other paintings where the color indicates what-is-what and what- is-connected-to-what. While I do not get a sense of light from this color, there is a sense of balance giving these works a timelessness, inviting your to just enjoy the journey of shape and color.

These bodies of work will be on view from November 1-26, with an artist talk on November 12. If you are unfortunate enough to have missed the opening and artist talks, but are curious to see more works stop by Cerulean Arts on Ridge Street in Philadelphia or go to The show is well-worth the effort.

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