Mystique or Romantic at Cerulean Arts
I noticed that Cerulean Collective has started to place the Artist Statement on the back of the List of Works for each of the artists exhibiting in the Collective Galleries. This is much appreciated as it provides a perspective for viewing the art work-- something about each artist, possibly their process or their history, in their own words. Which is especially nice as a visitor to these venues. I cannot always make it when the artist is present. In a similar spirit, I am adding a link next to each artist’s name in the paragraph where I comment on their work. This link enables readers to more fully explore each show.
From November 7th through December 2nd Cerulean Arts Collective hosts the art work of members Judy Caldwell, Leah Macdonald, Tony Morinelli, Kassem Amoudi, and Cindy Roessinger. One of the real pleasures of visiting the Collective galleries is the variety of the artists shown. But the choices for fitting these five singular exhibitions all at once leads one to thinking about the aspect of what connects them. I finally settled on the word “mystique”—a quality generated by a sense of mystery, something hidden, romance, or charm. Sometimes all four.
For Judy Caldwell (https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/judy-caldwell), the “mystique” is not in the
subjectmatter. These all seem to be landscapes and for the most part acrylic paintings, although there are some pastel works and an oil painting, too. Stylistically Caldwell does not adhere to one convention. But rather, each piece could be placed on a sliding scale between near representation to fully non-objective. For example, "Sunset on the Harbor",is a tranquil and sunny painting with soft color, gentle lines, and relaxed brush strokes where landforms, water, trees, and sky are recognizable and each in its place. When compared to "Lakeview", we see again soft
colors of light blue, green, and white. But the color alludes rather than describes. The brushwork is more capricious, changing in direction and handling. The green at the bottom seems on a collision course with the white descending from the top. It makes me think of the way weather can change in coastal areas and how sometimes it is difficult to disconnect the sky from the water. Caldwell is an artist who likes to move the materials around. Her paint can go from swoopy strokes to short, brash blows; pastels can be scribbled or smokily blended. There is a sense of immediacy and the artist’s presence in the moment to this work—which ties into her change-up of styles and to her materials. These are reactionary and experiential paintings. Thrust into her surroundings, Caldwell responds, trying to seek and give us that connection to the spirit of the landscape. I am reminded of a favorite quote by another landscapist, Helen Frankenthaler, “The landscapes were in my arms as I did it.”
When I walk into Leah Macdonald’s gallery (https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/leah-macdonald),
the tune to “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” plays in my head. Part of this is because of the subject—portraits of women. Part is because patterns of lace and polka dots and flowers are in abundance. And part is because the work is encaustic and wax provides that soft radiance of moonlight. There is also something spectral to the pieces having a color palette of white and black with just a touch of pastel color. Figures emerge and are blocked out. Layers upon layers are built, feeling dense, lush but also suffocating. And, of course, I think of the Fayum mummy masks--encaustic portraitsover mummies' faces. This build-up can be disturbing when it blanks out a face as in"Dark Leaves". Or playful as in "Dream Dots". One piece, "It's Hard
to Be Me" haswords scrawled into it. But somehow it does not feel more personal than the others. They are all intimate-- because each is so carefully crafted by hand, filled with a mix of decorative details, and alludes to touch. Moreover, this sense of accumulation doesn’t end in the pictures themselves. It extends to the layout of works in the room. Macdonald has turned the white cube into a Victorian parlor, refined and claustrophobic and copiously filled, where I am haunted by the women in her pictures. I am especially awed by the salon hanging of the main wall. Where most spaces present a gallery set-up, this is an installation changed and charged by the art work.
When I first looked at the paintings by Tony Morinelli (https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/tony-morinelli) I thought that they, too were of encaustic as the surfaces are thick and textured
with white or a neutral color as a staple of his palette. But you should never trust first glances or first instincts. As I moved around the room I could see gleams that could only come from varnish. And there appears to be areas of color underpainting beneath the surface of drips. In “Paint 4” blue makes a strong appearance and “Paint 3” includes yellow, blue, and red along with the ubiquitous white. Naturally, one cannot say “drip” and “paint” and not think of Jackson Pollock. But these are not simulations nor imitations of
Pollock’s style. Yes, they are all-over compositions. Yes, they have drips. But the paint is thicker, denser, and the application not only goes to the edge but even over the edge of the canvas. One painting even had markings on the frame. Morinelli’s dripping is more severe, less lyrical, than Pollock’s. Paint tended to be applied in verticals with horizontal breaks. Some of it even looked roughed out with more paint applied overtop. These paintings did not have lyricism like the artist was dancing around and twirling thin paint. The skeins of color/paint does not form veils or curtains of fringe to go through . They are not atmospheric. These paintings are brawny and muscular, aggressive like a wall of water (or cement?) coming toward you. If marble could drip, it would be a Tony Morinelli painting.
Stepping into Kassem Amoudi’s room (https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/kassem-amoudi) is like walking into another country., Or for this exhibition, into a home in another culture as most of these works appear to be interiors. And that culture is warm and sunlit, bright and inviting,
neat and orderly. These feelings spring from the paintings themselves. Outlined shapes clarify edges, regions, and objects. The color is bold and saturated with interesting variants of play between warm and cool and light and dark color. Amoudi works flat—there are not atmospheric perspective to see— reminiscent of Matisse. And also like Matisse, he shows a special interest in windows and doors which provide us with an opportunity to see little landscapes within the enlarged interiors with still lifes. Take "Windows and Doors 3" where we stand in a cool blue room with a flower-shape drawn in by black line. Through a long, curved-top "door" on the left side is entry or exit into another world of pinks, greens, and purples represnting a tree, foliage, and ground. Behind the flower is a rectangle consistent with the door in color and motif. Other areas carry the pink color and they could alo be windows or not. What they do, though, is carry your eye through and around the composition. Additionally, it informs us of a secondary storyline that makes these abstracted works into a narrative of coming and going—we are inside but we can see out as well. So, where is the first storyline? It is in the shapes placed within the interior. Some of these shapes peek through a covering of transparent paint which adds a sense of secrecy. Other shapes include a heart, X’s and O’s, even numerals. These markings are not disruptive but prominent enough for me to see. And I suspect they mean something for the artist. After looking at Amoudi’s work I read his Artist Statement, which put this work into context. It was a poem—
On the way home
I took a detour.
I found a city like our city.
A house like our house.
Am I dreaming I asked her.
No. You are not dreaming.
You were dreaming before
you came here.
This is reality.
And please don’t tell me reality is not real. I kept dreaming.
It was a relief to venture into the gallery for Cindy Roesinger
(https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/cindy-roesinger) where the paintings felt more intimately
scaled. The subjects ranged from still lifes to landscapes, many of them in a square format. Squares seem to be of importance to Roesinger as paint could be applied in squared brushstrokes and planes could be broken into cubes. Even organic shapes like those of pears, land masses, flowers and their vases, not to mention surfaces, can be subjected to this treatment. But somehow that does not reach to skies which are painterly and contrasty and emotive. And it is not unusual in the landscapes for the sky to take up more than half of the composition. But then again, these
were the pieces I found myself most drawn to as they were big in brushwork creating the illusion. Along with color—Roesinger is definitely a colorist. As much as her paintings report on light, they glow. This is aided by her use of white to highlight, small strokes to define a refraction, or a color shift that mimics a wave of movement or subtle change. The placement of brushstrokes and color within a composition that seems simplistic because of a lack of shapely detail causes a concentration on the repetition of color or color against color that creates a rhythm and a feeling. Sometimes that feeling is discordant (as in “Ode to Tyrian Purple”), sometimes sad (as in "Celestial"), sometimes anguid (as in “Cadence #18”), and sometimes glorious (as in “Gilded Sky”). With her devotion to color and rhythm in her paintings, I wonder if Roesinger is familiar with Synchromism or the artists Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright whose ideas could take her into further abstraction—if that is her interest.
After finally reading my notes and writing this blog, it occurred to me that each of these artists is an inheritor of Romanticism. For those not in the know, “Romantic” does not refer to “love” so much as it refers to interests in Nature, in emotionality, individualism and the artist’s hand, sensuality and sensory detail that lifts the commonplace into the sublime, that is, an experience out of the ordinary. Kassem Amoudi, Judy Caldwell, Leah Macdonald, Tony Morelli, and Cindy Roesinger’s art works were certainly capable of doing just this and I am so glad to have experienced them.
Cerulean Arts is located at 1355 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia. Their web site is https://ceruleanarts.com. And as mentioned earlier, I have provided the web address so that examples of each artist’s work after their name in the paragraph that describes them. The exhibition ends on Saturday, December 1st. PLEASE click on the link. You will be well rewarded!
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