• Carol Taylor-Kearney

The Holidays at Cerulean Art Collective


In a continuance of reporting the exhibitions at the Cerulean Gallery, I am covering the two exhibitions of the Collective. Why? Where else can one find high-quality original art of five artists in a solo exhibition each and a group exhibition of some sixty artists. Moreover, next door Cerulean Gallery has a historic, curated group exhibition, “A Starling in the Shadow”. But more on that later…

Kassem Amoudi, Laura Marconi, Diane Pieri, Gus Sermas, and Sally Van Orden are the members of the Cerulean Collective who exhibited their art works from November 11th – December 9th. I am always impressed by the diversity of the art work shown, but look for a unifying concern that could relate these art works to each other. For this group I came away thinking about space, from our movement in the world to the affects of reflection and repetition to the intervals of open and closed color spaces.

Simply put, Kassam Amoudi paints space—not places, space. Sometimes I think that I am standing in front of a wall, sometimes I feel that I am in the air looking down. His colors are both vibrant and subdued at the same time. Similarly, the shapes that create the space can range from outlined geometric to organic—and there is always something familiar and recognizable to them—like a tree or an outline of a house, or a doorway and window. But overall, they are perfectly placed patterns that define the sense of space. People familiar with artists like Matisse, Gorky, and Diebenkorn will see some resemblances to these artists in Amoudi’s work, but his paintings with their sensation of carved out color are fully unique.

Laura Marconi is a shape-master in a totally different light. She claims that she uses the landscapes of Iceland as inspiration, and there is a feeling of sky, mountains, lakes. Yet these are also paintings built from a limited palette (blacks, whites, grays or blacks, whites, blues) with striated areas fitting together like a puzzle. Marconi is very careful with the size and placement of these variegated shapes and she shows much versatility in her arrangements. For some works, she uses a circular composition making me think that I am peering through a porthole or a telescope, glimpsing the perfect reflections of land on water. In an even more interesting turn, Marconi will flip the composition 90°, transforming a landscape into symmetrical shapes around a center axis.

Diane Pieri’s artworks recall the culture of India—the heat, the abstracted shapes, the elegance. Her brightly and beautifully colored pieces are made of varying papers and paints, but in their sumptuousness and delicacy, appear to be fine silk. It is easy to admire the beauty of her work and the allure to touch it both with your eyes and fingers. And then, to conflate the process of building layer upon layer of materials and layer upon layer of the symbols she uses to create this foreign yet familiar paradise.

With Gus Sermas I am reminded of Henri Matisse’s quote, “Windows have always interested me because they are a passageway between the exterior and the interior.” He uses the window as an organizing unit in his sparse spaces that open to light and glowing color. Organic shapes play with geometric to form other worlds. In some such as his “Tasia’s Window” series, the framing sets up two spaces—the space of the viewer and the space beyond the window frame. In others such as “River of Styx”, the vase to the still life seems to cross over from the viewer to the landscape space. Sermas’s paint application is relatively thick with active brushwork conveying an ebullience for life.

Although there were a handful of paintings on silk, the art works shown by Sally Van Orden were sculptures of ceramic and steel. Their size was appropriate to a residence as they could sit on a tabletop or stand in the corner, but their scale was commanding. They seemed at the same time heavy and whimsical. The heaviness could be attributed to their materials, but they also possessed a frontal quality—something about them told me where to stand, like they were saying “I’m here!” Similarly, or I should say in a likewise friendly fashion, the ceramic blocks attached to the geometric steel--whether formed into a square, a circle, or an axis—were assembled to lend character and surprise.

To finish out 2017 and to begin 2018 Cerulean Collective is exhibiting Alyssa Bennett, Meghan Cox, Jacob Lunderby, Mary Powers Holt, and Nancy Neill. Maybe because I am reading the biography of Leonardo da Vinci who delved so fully into exploring the natural world and maybe because snow has blanketed the outside world, “mystery” is the word that comes to my mind in describing the overall theme of this group of artists. Some works are enigmatic, some conundrums, others are paradoxes—all make me think.

Nancy Neill thickly applies oil pastel to create paintings reminiscent of a landscape or a cityscape. But these are not specific places rather they lend a sensation of an area that diffuses into a distant horizon. I say diffuses rather than fades because the thickness of the application of the oil pastel is not necessarily less. The whole work has areas of build-up and scraping that keeps the surface quality, along with the color, active. Many of her pieces have an upper portion done in modulations of a single color making it read as sky, or more precisely, atmosphere. The bottom section, read as land, is of a different temperature than the top area and Neill is careful with her placement of value throughout her paintings. Probably because of the delineation between the upper and lower portions of the painting, I would pull out features to a landscape. Yet I found equal pleasure in concentrating just on the interplay of color and texture.

The paintings of Mary Powers Holt could also be called landscapes, but once again, they do not evoke a specific location as much as a place, a story, and a mood. She does not render shadows to her objects to tell us about the position of the sun or the time of day. Rather, light radiates from the jewel-like colors that she applied. Her style is lyrical with broad brushstrokes of ground or sky giving way to smaller touches for foliage or detail. In many works the sky and clouds are the star with the earth acting as a silhouette to frame a capricious heaven.

From a distance Jacob Lunderby’s paintings appear to be landscapes of dashed and somewhat foggy pattern. But as I came into the room I began to apprehend the layers of information given. And he was not afraid to blank out portions of the piece with a radical change of color, a shape, or what appeared to be a strange reflection. This guy is a serious disrupter whose work leads to thoughts about what we see, how we see, and how much (and how little) we record seeing.

Meghan Cox presented a series of still life and object paintings. These are carefully delineated observations of one-sourced light flowing over a subject. The colors and shapes emerge and clarify then fade into long shadows. They call for quiet and intense scrutiny. But this is not to say that they are heavy or do not have humor. The folded, white paper that interrupts the multitude of flower petals, the mountain-high pile of corks on (perhaps) an overturned wine bottle, and (my favorite) a mound of pillows heaped to hide a figure in a chair all project this artists shy and sly sense of playfulness.

Alyssa Bennett’s horses come in both the 3-dimensional and 2-dimensional variety. The sculptural horses are constructed of feathers and sticks and beg to be stroked. The drawings are made up of charcoal strokes that build in density and coalesce to form the faces of horses. The sculptural pieces are more enigmatic, partly because they are made of feathers and partly because their shape is more generalized. Their individual personalities come from their materials and pose. On the other hand, the drawings all include the horse’s eyes which call my attention away from the energized markings while giving me a point of focus—and a consciousness to reflect on.

All the artists and examples of their work can be found on the Cerulean Arts web page. Simply go to https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/artists-1.

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