The report I received from an artist-friend on the exhibition of art work at Cerulean Collective galleries was that it was “very competent”. So I was expecting to see art work that was well executed though perhaps a little dry. But the artists-- Chris Feiro, Susan D’Alessio, Andrea Lyons, Pia De Girolamo, and Amy Herzol—proved my expectations were clearly wrong. Each room and each artist offered not only its own character but an alternate way of using their vocabulary.
Chris Feiro is an artist who carefully studies. When entering his gallery one feels quiet reverence, not because his subject is religious or historical painting. No, these are everyday
objects and everyday encounters in familiar rooms. But his precision in perspective, in line and shape and proportion and value speak to the age-old use of Sacred Geometry. This is incredibly effective in his paintings of rooms and objects. It makes the outdoor scenes unnaturally still and elongated in time. Like the
landscapes in Renaissance paintings, these are
pristine, subtly beautiful. Which also best describes his color; it is in harmony. This is helpful because there are so many little details to his pictures and the harmony of the colors and the direction of the light lead you by and through his spaces. Moreover, if you asked me what I just saw after leaving his room I would say “beautiful paintings”. But here’s the thing, among his paintings were charcoal drawings that in my mind’s eye have color. Why? Maybe it was that two of these were of intricately delineated basements, places that we consider dark and utilitarian. And he nailed the sense of an under-lit space. More probable is that his execution of values fabricated color in my imagination.
Subtle is not a word that I would use for Susan D’Alessio’s paintings. The surfaces are textured going from scraped to richly layered. The colors are contrasted. At first, I was not necessarily sure what to hold onto so I looked at the titles which carried words like “Fire”, “Embers”, “Coals“. But the paintings did not so much speak to me of heat as they did electricity—an energy of flashes of light and discovery coursing through the shapes. There were four paintings with “Tom’s Fire” and a time-stamp in the title. I associated them with a narrative, but they seemed to be as much a story of D’Alessio’s process as a story of an occurrence. Three of the four had a similar palette of creams and blue-grays, oranges and yellows. They were all the same-sized square compositions with shapes that could, perhaps, be referring to different points of observation during the same event. With the fourth “Tom” painting, the color became a little more blues and gray, the cream was gone replaced by a white with red. It was larger and rectangular rather than a square. Could it be that the the experience of the first three eventually evolved to a whole new composition, “Tom’s Fire, 8:30 PM”? Somehow, it felt that this painting was key as it seemed to bridge a gap between the earlier paintings I saw and the “Tom’s” paintings. Rounding out the experience are the “Little Fires”, small squared canvases of jagged color shapes. They felt more like explosions than the larger paintings which had a slow-burning and watched quality. When I saw them I thought of Clyfford Still’s large paintings, partly because of their play with opaque and transparent paint, but especially for their luminosity.
Andrea Lyons’s paintings are some of the most original work that I have seen in a long time. Stylistically, they combine the influences of Minimalism (think Frank Stella’s shaped canvases), Op Art (think Victor Vasarely’s “Sign Sculpture”), trompe l'oeil, and even, sometimes, Folk Art. Unlike most Minimalism, these do not feel manufactured but handmade. The edges are not finely finished. You can see the surface of the panel, brushstrokes, and the incised or drawn line, making them warm and relatable. The trompe l’oeil effect stems from the fact that these are made from wood panels and she accentuates the wood’s graining even fusing its direction and shape to cause optical illusions. Lyons technique in creating these works is very consistent, but the ends can be very
different. For example, three of the works feature blackbirds—one as subject, two with the silhouette of a chair. Within the context of what she is doing, these are narratives. In the former, she uses the wood to tell us about the patterns of the bird’s body and of his environ. In the latter two, the wood is arranged to form the corner of a room with a chair in it. The combination of a chair that invites me in to visit and the position of the birds— on the chair or flying around the room— makes me keep my distance. And this invitation in and pushing away happens over and over again in her paintings. In the painting called “Fleshy 2”, the wood is flesh-colored and makes me think of the torso. But the illusion is not fleshy, rather it is flat planes and points causing some areas to look like they are jutting out while adjoining areas jut in—I give her “Best in Figure/Ground Confusion”. Which is part and parcel, too, with Op Art and causes the piece itself to be the subject and the object. Other artworks have titles that refer to structures—rooms, towns, streets—but the juxtaposed planes made by color and grain direction let me know that I could knock my head off or become confused if I tried to inhabit them. Lyons is a postmodern creator of visual funhouses.
The paintings and collages of Pia De Girolamo are heavy like the land and the animals that they portray. Part of the reason for this is that they are large, part is that they are shaped like blocks—either squares or horizontal rectangles, and part is the thick application of paint. This is an artist who is not afraid to move the paint around and make unexpected color choices. Not that the skies are not blue, sometimes they are, as well as pink and yellow, gray and white. But the sky is painted as solid as the ground plane becoming another delineated shape on the canvas, not atmosphere or weather. This lends itself less to creating an expanse with depth as a space that is divided and mapped. Which, of course, made me think of all the mountain paintings of Marsden Hartley and some by Milton Avery. And I began to relate to these paintings differently than I would a plein air painting or a more traditionally painted landscape, not as a report on what mountains look like but what it feels like to be dwarfed by the mountain, to be moving from one part of the terrain to another, to be IN THE MOUNTAINS as a solid figure measuring time through spatial distribution. Or better, to be measuring a day by the surface crossed. The shapes used assert land and rock and water and mountain and sky and clouds, and even horses and cows. But each object, and even the shadow of an object, are an outlined color that acts in response to the other colors around it. The piece that, for me, indicated a break from looking at these just as visual observances and more as lived experience was “Patagonia Landscape”. A blue rectangle with a white geometric shape covering most of the center, it has torn pieces of acrylic colored swaths glued on top. It does not assemble itself into anything that I recognize that says “landscape”—not a view out, not an aerial view. So, it is a puzzle and as a puzzle I think of it as shapes that are experienced and put together rather like memories. With memories we attach one event to another which may or may not be directly related while gaps and holes are left. And there is room for rearrangement when next we meet our experience.
Entering Amy Herzel’s gallery I was transfixed. Her works are airy, or even aerie—a secluded
and isolated place high up in the sky. Although made of the same material, graphite and/or gold ink on clay board, each piece is self-contained. The graphite, especially amongst the
black ink, glimmers like silver. And when gold ink is introduced, too, there is real shine. There are areas of great, or is it dense, activity from which less active areas spread lending a sense of spaciousness. When coupled with the circular nature in many of the compositions—some have circles drawn into them, some have swipes that allude to circles, some are arranged in spirals—there is a feeling of movement. But each movement has its own character. In “18 Years of Marriage: The Everlasting Gobstopper” it is explosive; in “Girls: Ganesha’s Sacred Flower” an ameba-like pattern descends (swims?) from the upper left to the lower right
through a swirl of gold; in “Beginnings: Imperfection” a gold yantra, presents itself as a circle itself in a square. I am guessing this as a yantra rather than a mandala because by color and by design it reminds me of a flower, a marigold perhaps, that contains shapes that I see in “Cotton Flower” and “Primordial Soup”. As I look at the designs, how they are fitted on to the clay board, and the structure and materials of the art works, I am reminded of looking through a microscope at a stained slide. I am also reminded of some of the henna designs I have seen on hands and arms, feet and legs. These designs are drawn onto the skin—sometimes as purification rituals. They can be elaborate and both fit onto the skin and stain deeper. But they are temporary as opposed to these works with their individuality, their lightness, their movement, speak of temporality. So many lines like threads weaving in and out of each other, it becomes meditative. And some of the titles help here, with “Girls: Ganesha’s Sacred Flowers” and “Heart Sutra”. I am called to sit in this room, close to but with my back toward the doorway, at an angle where, with a small turn of my head I can see each individual work to contemplate it. I will find a discovery of an inner and outer truth. I wonder if Amy Herzel felt this as she made each of these exquisite pieces?
Unfortunately, the exhibition of these works will end on May 5th. But they can be found on Cerulean Arts web site at https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/artists-1 and then clicking on the name of the artist on that page.