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It's Opening Day!

September… the start of the school year; the start of football season; the start of the exhibition calendar. Exciting opportunities all—filled with possibility and expectation. For Cerulean Arts, it is a time of celebration on two levels. One is its continuous operation. September 15th was their 12-year anniversary. The other is on the success of their new enterprise, the Cerulean Arts Collective, now entering its second season. Congratulations to Tina Rocha and Michael Kowbuz for their forward-thinking venture and wishes for their continued success!

Here is a video about Cerulean Arts by John Thornton:

September 15th was also the date for the Artist Talk for “Juxtaposed”, an exhibition of paintings by three artists-- Joan Wadleigh Curran, Julie Zahn, and Peggy Tutelman Merves—in the gallery space of Cerulean Arts. As the title suggests, the art works of these three artists

Post card for Juxtaposed.

are intermixed on the walls in ways that call attention to the variety of materials and methods they employ. At the same time, each artist has used juxtaposition in their individual pieces, usually in some form of figure-ground relationship.

Peggy Tutelman Merves offers a variety of still lifes, all in a square format with a single colored background and all about the same size. But the key word here is “variety”. Even within this

Peggy Tutelman Merves.  Dark Day in the Studio.  Oil on flashe on canvas.
Peggy Tutelman Merves.  Orange Crush.  Oil on flashe on canvas.

fixed system, she gives the eye plenty to look at and direction to move. With the use of flashe paint as the ground, what gets painted on top could just jump out and sit in front of the painted surface. Instead, the flashe itself is quiet and interacts with the brushy oil painted subjects in several ways. One is that it sets the time of day and temperature of the light as in “Dark Day in the Studio”. Another is that it interacts with the painted-on shapes and

patterns to give harmony to the composition as in “Divided”. A third is that it makes the

paintings feel luxurious and velvety, and therefore inviting. These are carefully painted works where the eye follows the active color of the brush strokes around the painting. I became aware that the lines and shapes connected to other shapes and lines to create either a circular motion around a center like a galaxy or straight across the center of the square as in a panorama. This is an artist who knows all about the edges of a painting and how to trick the eye from seeing the shape of the canvas at all.

Joan Wadleigh Curran.  Stalwart.  Oil on panel.

Joan Wadleigh Curran juxtaposes the natural to the man-made in her oil on panel and gouache on paper paintings. Precise paintings—photorealistic, tightly compositioned, well thought out-- I am not so much mystified in a transcendental way seeing her paintings as surprised and dismayed. For example, in “Stalwart” she depicts a prickly evergreen growing up through the center of her vertical canvas. But along the edge both left and right, what appears to be leaves from some other broad-leaf plant break in, and at the top—is that a plastic bag that has gotten stuck

Joan Wadleigh Curran. Civitella.  Gouche on paper.

in the tree? This is something we commonly overlook as we pass through daily life—our trash disfiguring nature. Here it becomes a statement of tragedy and neglect bordering on abuse of our environment. Equally tragic in their way are “Sansepolcro” and “Civitella”. Both juxtapose a solid but crumbling wall background with a hanging strand— in “Sansepolcro” a rusted chain, in “Civitella” a fraying rope. Large shapes patterned to create the wall in the back make the slight, dangling rope and chain in the front appear even more untethered and vulnerable.

Julie Zahn’s paintings are mixed media, that is, a variety of materials and methods. I can see areas that have washed pigment and areas that have woodblock print. There is an all-over pattern (crystallographic balance) at work in her art works as though the artist walked around them as she made them—choosing this, choosing that. Although it is pieced, this is not quiltlike but silken with one area flowing to another. Her imagery is layered so that I need to not only explore the composition but unpack it layer by layer both physically and metaphorically. I recognize some shapes as plants, some as decorative iron, some as rocks and stones, and flowers. There is an airyIt is like a series of glances around someone’s garden. In the scroll-like “Puddle Reflections” it is a story recounting the movement from one area to another; in “Earl 1” and “Pink Circle” I am in the midst. But my favorite of all is “Moon Garden” which reminds me of a haiku by Yosa Buson:

Julie Zahn.  Moon Garden.  Mixed media.

Light of the moon Moves west, flowers' shadows Creep eastward.

You still have a short time to catch this beautiful exhibition at Cerulean Arts at 1355 Ridge Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19123. It is up until September 23rd. But if you can't get ther, check out the images of work go to

Below is the Artist Talk from September 15th at Cerulean Arts.

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