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  • Carol Taylor-Kearney

Coffee House Chatting at Stanek Gallery

"Viewing Room" at Stanek Gallery.

On an icy January 6th of this new year of 2018 I found myself at an event at Stanek Gallery in Old City Philadelphia.

Promo for exhibition.  Kai Samuels-Davis, artist.

Stanek Gallery opened in November of 2015 on 232 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia. The founders of Stanek Gallery, Katherine Stanek and Deborah Fine, are working artists whose studios are housed in the same building as this beautifully arranged gallery. Since their opening Deborah and Katherine have introduced a number of innovations to their gallery. One is a comfortable viewing space, set up like a living room, for considering an artwork purchase. A second is to invite curators to assemble exhibitions using both the gallery artists and others appropriate to a theme. A third is to have programming that would bring together artists, art collectors, and those interested in the arts. So far this has included artist talks and demonstrations, cocktail hours, and even a formal dinner, all within the gallery. To this is added what is described as a “Coffee House Chat” whose purpose was to explore, describe, and attest to a new way that artists are working. Called “Disruptive Realism”, it is the title of the exhibition curated by David Seed who also gave name to this burgeoning, world-wide tendency. He is also responsible for the catalog essay that spells out what he sees as the style and its philosophical underpinnings.

“In the past few decades, realism in painting has made a comeback. As traditional skills return, a number of artists in the U.S. and Europe have been inspired to challenge the rigor of their realist practice by disrupting their imagery. This exhibition will be the first time that disruption is set apart from other trends in modern art and framed as a distinctive movement that deserves further examination.” — John Seed

For this at first panel discussion David Seed was joined by David Weiss of Freeman’s Auction House, Ross Lance Mitchell, a curator/consultant, artist and arts educator, and Stanka Kordic, one of the artists featured in the exhibition. The group and the topic were introduced by Katherine Stanek who also posed questions and kept the discussion lively by opening the floor to others and reading questions that came in through Stanek Gallery’s Facebook page. Coffee and light snacks were offered before and after the formal discussion. And this was where the actual “chatting” occurred. Part of the reason for this was the informality of browsing the exhibition where so many of the artists as well as these experts on Disruptive Realism were available. And part was because the presentation had led to additional observations by the attendees.

As an afterward I have to say that I am not so sure of saying that the Realism of Disrupted Realism is so much disruptive as a tendency for artists to use the vocabulary of “realism”, that is painting objects and scenes connected to a real world appearance, and layering it with other levels of information. These can include expunging information as in the work of Nicholas Sanchez who allows us to see ourselves in his paintings without faces. And the “Lost Thoughts” paintings of Radu Belcin who clouds portions of what appears to be an old black and white portrait for varying impacts. Adding information also and especially causes disruption in the paintings of Justin Bower, Kai Samuels-Davis, and Daniel Ochoa. Each of these artists present heads that have been fragmented in various ways. For Bower he uses both repetition of facial landmarks with digitized images to create a futurized portrait. Samuels-Davis (see card above) and Ochoa both use cubistic tendencies to fracture and reestablish the subject for emotional power. Power can also be emphasized by movement and it is a layering of movement and its observation that drives the works of Bruce Samuelson, Stanka Kordic, and Robert Birmelin. Samuelson begins with the observation of the nude and overlays the dynamics of movement, picking and choosing what to highlight for a forceful progression across a canvas or paper. Stanek begins with a recognizable portrait of a sitter the works intuitively to remove and add painted details to express an innermost thought. Birmelin’s disruption is part of the narrative he paints. A waving hand or figures moving passed agitate a busy, crowded scene making the painting less of a stop-action and more of a flux.

The other artists in this exhibition include Alex Kanevsky, Justin Duffus, Anne Harris, , Catherine Kehoe, James Bland, Lou Ros, and Stephanie Pierce. More information on Stanek Gallery and “Disrupted Realism” and the artists’ artworks can be found at The coffee house chat along with other news and events can be viewed at Stanek Gallery’s Facebook page

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