Magical! The Artwork at Cerulean Collective Galleries
“Magical” is the best word that I can come up with after seeing the various artworks of Caroline Furr, Fran Gallun, Sean Hildreth, Ritva Kangasperko, and Susan Wallack at Cerulean Arts Collective galleries. But magical is a difficult word as it can mean “tricky” and these works are neither about slick painting nor tricking the eye. It can also mean “enchanting”, and although many of these works are charming and could, on their own, turn the mood of a room, they are also intellectually serious and made me envision the world anew. And here is how.
Just outside the entry to Susan Wallack’s gallery I encounter “Reunion”, a mixed media piece of multiple figures made of materials that include acrylic paint,
papers of various patterns, ink, and jewels on canvas. A quiet, broadly-painted landscape with a patterned sun in a cloud-filled sky that gives way to hills, water, sand and pathway. It holds boldly colored figures active in meeting up with someone—be it a dog, a parent, a child, or a frog. In many ways this painting sets the stage for what will be inside. Stories of people, particularly women told through characters that reminded me of Niki de Saint Phalle “Nana” sculptures, Modigliani's figure paintings, and Faith Ringold's quilt paintings. Wallack's figures are sensuous in a pared-down way which evokes even more mood and
energy than their facial expressions may suggest. There is a discreet political message to these works-- I say discreet because, as a group, none scream their message. Rather, they normalize it. For example, "Trump's Bad Hombres" focuses on a loving couple with silhouetted figures in the background. They meet our eyes and we are invited to meet their's. She has named her exhibition "Gospel", but I don't get that this so much alludes to just the Christian Gospels, but presents ideas and ideals that she has mulled over. Wallack uses both high and low materials to create her work. She commandeers found images and papers, little ornaments and glitter, even cardboard and a Styrofoam head. But it all goes to become an aesthetic object that supports a personal narrative that is recognizable, fresh, and very insightful.
Sean Hildreth is a colorist of the audacious kind. In works such as “Early Bird” and even “This
Wasn’t Suppose to be Their Wedding Present”, the color is brazen. While in “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” and “One of Pat’s Lamps”, it is contrasty and even glows neon in a few choice places. And this is good as everything in these paintings speak to the old—from furniture to
watches, coins to teeth. There is a sense of airless collection without dust or nostalgia. But that is not to say that there is no connection. In presenting these pieces in a kind of shallow-spaced reportage, they are more present—like visiting your grandparent’s house and wondering “why are those objects
together?” as in “Magic Pam” or the aforementioned “One of Pat’s Lamps”. My favorites are his watches. Sized and priced to be bought in collections, there are eleven (I think) in all. Painterly in a smooth-stroked way of metal and crystal, their backgrounds remind me of Vincent van Gogh in color and texture. I may be pressing it, but it also makes me think of the watch, a period timepiece, as a vortex in a space-time flow.
I am already familiar with Ritva Kangasperko’s paintings, having seen one in the juried group
exhibition at Cerulean Gallery this past summer. This exhibition’s juror was Patricia Traub, an artist known for her figurative work as well as love of animals. And all of Kangasperko’s paintings fill this bill. But where Traub’s paintings are highly studied and representational in anatomy that causes one to equate humans to other
animal forms, Kangaspeko obviously has a different mission. These are narrative paintings (and sometimes etchings) steeped in love of animals but also personal myth. I suggest this because of works like “When You See Yourself in Water You See the Truth” and “The Truth Is in the Mirror” and “Happy Pregnancy”. In the first two, the figure is reflected as a fox; in the third, all the world—animals, plants, person, sun and moon and star are resplendent
in happiness. And standing among these works I can feel a smile lift my face and my spirit. Partly this is about the simplification of forms and the light application of the paint. These are more like line drawings filled in with color-- which remind me of Marie Laurencin, one of the few women of the Parisian avant garde. And though lyrical in much the same way, Kangasperko is singular to herself and to her story-- which is similar to another great Modernist, Paula Modersohn-Becker. I have to add that I was equally mesmerized by her etchings. Devoid of color, these pieces are full of activity of line and shape and exuberance!
The first artwork that hits your eye, right from the very front door, is Fran Gallun’s “Golden Artifacts”. Partly because of its position—it is on the wall down the middle hallway of the
gallery spaces, partly because of the size, but mostly because of its glow. Warm and golden colors hold shapes like vessels, plants, and boxes—some blurred to the
ground, others that stand out. This is a floating world where some objects line up as on a surface and some dissipate into the field of color. The arrangement seems to form a dance both around and back and forth—kind of like lived experience and the past or wakefulness and dream. There is a playfulness with materials but these materials, and there are many, are traditional art materials used beautifully. In a piece like “In Harmony” or “Pink Leaves”, I could easily accept that collage was used even though it wasn’t, especially when compared to “Illuminated Still Life” or even “Fallen Fruit” where collage was used. If looking for a title to Gallun’s exhibition here, you need go no further than "Language
of Shapes” which seems to give us her unending vocabulary. Strangely, I don’t know why, but standing in the hall looking from “Golden Artifacts” to “Language of Shapes”, I think of Paul Klee. But I will let Gallun speak for herself when it comes to art inspiration. She does this with her “A Visit with Bonnard”. Truly a showpiece.
Caroline Furr uses mixed media to a quiet end, too. I feel like a nocturnal being exploring the
world. Sometimes I am outside as in “Branching” and “Flowers Before a Hedge”. Sometimes I am inside as in
“Green Room”.And sometimes it feels as though I am looking through a window to see the outside as in “Treetops”. But it doesn’t matter. I am always aware that I am a spectral floating through the different stages of the night where I must talk in hushed tones. Part of this reaction comes from the forms in these pieces—somewhat
monochromatic but glistening. There are a number of pieces with a full, pearlescent moon whose edges seem to be flecked into the gray paint. And I notice some have glitter. There is a strong Eastern quality to these asymmetrical compositions as well as the shapes used—the flowers and golden ripples in “Falling” is just one of many examples. This is further supported by the way the works on paper are presented-- naturally edged and attached like scrolls to the wall. I am reminded of the ukiyo-e prints of Hiroshige, especially “Wind Blown Grass Across the Moon”. Furr’s “Plateau” matches it for style.
These truly transcendent works can be seen at the Cerulean Collective Galleries until November 4th. Cerulean is open Wednesday – Friday 10 am – 6 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 12 pm – 6 pm. I cannot encourage you enough to stop in to 1355 Ridge Avenue to see them.
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