Is It New, Radical, Or You? A group exhibition at Cerulean Arts
Is It Radical Or Is It You? A group exhibition at Cerulean Arts
During this past month I have stopped in twice to see the works at Cerulean Arts (the gallery as opposed to the Collective). The gallery presents “themed” exhibitions, often organized by a curator, who is greatly assisted in presenting the art by Tina Rocha and Michael Kowbuz. The opportunity includes an opening and a recorded Artist Talk that becomes available on YouTube and posted at the end of this article.
This particular exhibition, titled “New Radicals”, is large in scope, that is, 28 pieces of varying techniques and materials, by 14 artists. For the most part, it is about painting, although there is one 3-dimensional piece that would be termed “conceptual” in nature. Most of the art, as would be necessary for this space and the sheer number of participants, is smallish—about 25 inches on the longest side being the threshold so it has the feel of a sampling of each of the artists’ oevre. And although there is recognizable imagery, it is reasonably “abstracted” as opposed to “representational”.
All this led me to many questions. I thought doing an interview with the curator would be a different way to unlock this exhibition. Unfortunately, Aubrey Levinthal, the curator, was unavailable for an interview although she offered to give me any guidance if needed and steered me toward a review (one much the same as I would have done under normal conditions) in the more well-known “Broad Street Review” and the gallery talk which she gave and has recently been posted on YouTube.
But I still had the questions and one in particular that I wanted answered. I liked the idea of an interview. What to do? Then it hit me… Why not interview the exhibition and the artwork?! So, here goes. The questions are in bold while only the name of the artwork is in bold for the answer.
1. The name of the exhibition, “New Radicals” immediately brought to my mind the cult-group and one-hit-wonders of “You Get What You Give” of the late 1990’s, NEW RADICALS. Is there an affinity here?
Answer: “New Radical” is a loaded term. Taken as an observation, you come up with “new”—that these are, perhaps, young professionals emerging onto the scene or, at least, a type of branding that this is something different from what has been experienced before. And “radical”, again, a break-away from the known and established. The band of this name was considered “alternative rock”, one of those garage bands separate from either “grunge” or “hard rock” or “heavy metal”. With its catchy phrases (both verbal and sound), melodious singing, even spoken word sections in “You Get What You Give”, there is a sense of zeitgeist and a mixing of known forms—rock, pop, even rap—built into the song. This makes it genre-bending.
Similarly, pieces in this exhibition are perhaps not so radical as Jackson Pollock’s “drip paintings” or Picasso and Braque’s “Analytic Cubism”, but certainly as radical, say, as Mannerism to the Renaissance. By their choice of materials, mix of styles and influences, even subjectmatter, each of these artists are focused on creating something personally meaningful rather than worried about labels or the acceptance of the audience.
From the standpoint of “materials” abstractionist work can become even more atypical and conceptual. To begin, comparing Adam Lovibytz’s two paintings, Fish Stick and
New Skin is enlightening. Fish Stick is composed of a ground of pink to orange to gray spreading from the center. Within this ground are organic shapes resembling figurative blobs, the numeral 2, a shadowy fish with a more substantial limb sticking into it. Overall, there is a gauzy yet grainy surface quality probably because its materials include acrylic mixed with schist. New Skin, also has a continuous ground containing rounded shapes and symbols arranged around a head in the center. But because this is made of acrylic alone there is a smooth, plastic quality to this piece. So now that I am viewing both of them I come away with a relationship, a story exploring the baby-to-be in utero (Fish Stick has qualities like an ultrasound picture) and the baby-in-arms after birth (New Skin has qualities of the elastic skin of a new baby). Another artist who lets their materials suggest their story is Kaitlin Pomerantz. In Rock Clock (of the Alabama Hills) and Untitled (Tales from a Promise Zone) Pomerantz sets before us images that actualize her experience by using some of the very materials of that experience. In Rock Clock an actual rock sits on a shelf beside a plaster cast of that rock with ticking hands. This causes one to think of a piece of earth in terms of a timed, human life. While in Untitled (Tales of a Promise Zone) we see blotched stains, dripped spray paint, and stenciled chain-link fence patterning. The accumulation is indicative of a segment of urban decay before or during government gentrification—the point of a Promise Zone. Liza Samuel likes to use natural materials to make natural paints. In Eye Contact she uses charred, ground bones sealed in wax to present a mystic eye image reminiscent of the third eye—and there are three eyes in this painting—symbolic of protection, good health, or the all-seeing eye of the divine. In Tree Samuel uses, what else, chlorophyll, that green stuff that gives leaves their color and enables a plant to do photosynthesis. Add to that shellac, a resin that bugs lay on trees, and we have a whole tree assembled on a piece of panel.
Another set of artists in this exhibition use their process to extend what their painting can be and communicate. Mariel Capanna presents us with Lost, South of France, a fresco on plywood. Fresco is a very old technique for wall painting. Of course, just the word “lost” conjures the feelings of the
folks inside the (stopped) car-- they have “hit a wall”. Add to that that this is both a painting of a car and, because it is shaped, the object—a car itself, and we have some real play (via Jasper John’s Flag paintings) of subject/object confusion. Bonnie Levinthal’s Atina and Nightfall (Atina) are very fluid. Blue streaks in controlled, directional lines cross the paper, some areas moving vertical, some horizontal, building a smooth surface of colors of varying blues and grays. All together a landscape is suggested. But there is something more, the harmonious and rich color suggests shadows and light. The directional suggest falling or support Taken with the soft brushstroke that caresses the paper like a soft breeze, there is a quiet Romanticism.
Many of the artists in this exhibition have taken their color theory studies quite seriously and use them in ways that could make Josef Albers only smile as they make his philosophy into art. In Self Portrait Peach Dustin Metz places a fuzzy-edged, orange-tinted circle between two fields of dark blue at the top and brown at the bottom. This orange circle could be sitting on a surface or rising in front of two color fields. No matter. The contrast of value and temperature causes a glowing sensation to the circle. It should pop off the darker fields but a muted halo of orange in the bottom brown field settles the peach into the painting. This causes me to look more closely—and there it is! A self-portrait looking back at me like the man in the moon. In Burning Bush Metz plays with simultaneous contrast but instead of smaller squares in larger squares expressive paint fields of blue cradling green cradling red is presented. There is a Cy
Twombly-ness to this work. (Think of his Fire That Consumes All Before It from his 50 Days of Ilium series.) There are peeks of the blue ground through the green field but not the red, making the red part of the green. Because of simultaneous contrast the red glowers and we can feel its heat. Samantha Mitchell in her Hairy Mountain and Blue Butte (is there a joke here?) adds to her non-objective works contrast in texture/pattern and contrast in opacity. It seems very simple, a color field with a bordered area in which small consistent marks are made. But the opacity of the ground gives the piece weight while the small marks through which I can see the ground takes on a sense of transparency due to the consistent patterning and the fact that you can see the ground through the marks. Both fields move into the same spatial plane but the marked area, being dominant in size, becomes the subject no matter how I try to look at it. The marks themselves shift color as they move throughout the shaped area. These are precisely balanced works of the Hard-Edge school but with the mechanics dropped and the personal hand
built in instead. Alex Cohen uses the addition of a patterned shape in the middle of a color expanse in Gold and Ebon Croissant. Basically a black and white painting, without this shape it takes on the figure-ground confusion of a Franz Kline painting. This dynamic does not fully disappear with the introduction of the small, defined shape in the middle, the croissant. Rather it mitigates and makes the painterly black on the right side feel intrusive. It is that mix of figurative and abstraction that Philip Guston introduced toward the end of his life without the loaded images. His other work, Via Sant Antonio, is more reminiscent of a Milton Avery or Helen Frankenthaler paintings. Although oil, it has that lightness of watercolor that makes the pale colors appear to be one with the surface as opposed to applied to it. Evan Fugazzi’s Dye and Marrow are of the Minimalist and even
Color Field variety. From a distance these seem to be squares of a single color—blue for Dye, a creamy white for Marrow. But even from a distance there is something disruptive. In Dye, the outline of a triangular shape moves below the surface; in Marrow there is a radiance somewhere in the center. Strangely, these paintings gave me anxiety. Something about them made me think of latex being pulled over a container to the point of just about snapping back. But then I thought of Brice Marden (particularly his Dylan painting) and Robert Mangold. Both of these artists, like Evan Fugazzi, are using compositional elements, that is, shape, color, texture, in a very narrow way that both shows the artist’s hand-made process and a call for closer scrutiny.
Leigh Werrell and Rebecka Callahan are two of the artists with only one submission, but these singular entries
make me wish for more. In King of Wings Werrell has given us a study in black with charcoal and gouache on black paper. The difference in material—paper to
charcoaled paper—creates competing blacks while the dots of white, or is that white and blue, pop like windows or street lights or an aerial view of strange landing strips below. Sea Oats by Rebekah Callahan brings to my mind the paintings of Camille Pisarro or, perhaps more appropriately, Gustav Klimt. Not that Callahan is using little strokes or dabs of paint. Rather, her paint takes the form of loose shapes intermingled—red rocks are broken by orange bursts, green and turquoise are interrupted by blue dashes, violet and ochre rocks have dashes of a bright yellow cutting them. Just from this color description you can surmise that she is working with complementary color. The painting is representational enough that it appears like a seascape but you can get lost in the color and pattern. There is a similar phenomenon to
Claire Kincade’s Franklin Place and Red Arrangement. In Franklin Place, the
predominant color scheme is yellow and gray. But the gray ranges from warm (read as a soft violet) and cool (bordering on blue). The set up of a light yellow and paler colors at the top and past the grid of a window and the brownish yellow of the bottom of the painting creates the illusion of interior and exterior. These tints do what tints do—they step back and the darker colors produce the “in front of”. On the inside, multicolored, patterned bottles produce an excuse for light and shadow of gray and white. Within two of the grid spaces there are also patterned shapes—perhaps reflections on the glass, perhaps something in the sunny outdoors, or perhaps attention grabbers to have the eye move around the painting. Red Arrangement is, as promised by the title, mostly red, although some blue and yellow along with neutrals occur. I am not sure what exactly the squared off areas that make up the painting are. But given their size, overlapping, individual motifs and qualities of busyness, I get surfaces and textures and spatial
placements. This is an amusing painting to view, sitting between known and unknown in the same way as Fernand Leger’s “Animated Landscapes”. John Mitchell’s two works, Georgia and Inlet at Night, could be called Painterly Realism. Georgia with its flower subjectmatter reminds me of Nell Blaine while Inlet at Night, a landscape, recalls Neil Welliver. These painters, like Mitchell here, use lush brushwork and stylistic exaggeration of what they see to make a composition that thrums with life. Unlike Blaine or Welliver, he seems to be using a toned ground with many layers built over it giving the painting a unifying and mysterious light.
Bill Scott is the best known of the artists in this exhibition. Artist, teacher, curator, Scott has probably mentored any number of those presented here. He uses contrasts of value, color, scrawled lines thick and thin to delineate and give detail in his whirling paintings, Pink
and Winter Flowers. Each are named for something occurring in the painting. In Pink there is a frost of that color around the edges of the painting making it appear that some kind of fog is moving in to obscure the action of scribbles and bubbles of color. In Winter Flowers, many of these kind of bubbles are marked to transform them into flowers like roses. Little Diptych, a third painting here, draws my eye and is probably my favorite painting here—although there are many contenders. But from a compositional quality and a chance to see
my own narrative, it is the one I come back to. The work is made of two sides—one has a transparent yellow-green marked with black lines that converge like tree branches. Into these forms bright blue figures, the one closest to the edge of this section reminds me of an arrowhead, are interspersed. The other part of the diptych shows two ovals. Behind all is a green backdrop with black sweeps that meet the ones on the companion side. Maybe many people would not place these together but that is the wonder of Bill Scott. Doing this prompts me to think about birds, flying back and forth, protecting their eggs. Scott shows with Hollis Taggart in New York and is known for his exuberant and colorful paintings made from layers of clean color and naturalistic shapes and these are just that.
Finally, there is Aubrey Levinthal, the curator for this exhibition. Although not noted in the list of Artists Works, she has a piece, Foggy Mirror, behind the desk and thus connected to the rest of the gallery. Stylistically, it has that quality that you don’t quite know what you are seeing until you examine it closely. Many of these artists share this. It is painterly in its sweeps of layered blue and gray scumbled strokes that make up most of the surface. A rectangular area interrupts the blue-gray scumble with one side holding a white area with a touch of green and the other two eyes on a field of gray. The blue-gray scumble makes the edges of the white and green and gray look gauzy while the rectangular area without the scumble looks like reflection. Strangely, the title is an explanation of what we view but it could also be taken to another step of “the mystery of the gaze”.
So, to make a long answer into a few words, the artists in this exhibition seem to be choosing art from the past, materials, and techniques as idioms in painting not unlike New Radicals did with their music.
2. How was this artwork chosen?
Answer: I noticed that many of the pieces had a citation of “Courtesy of Gross McCleaf”, another commercial gallery in Philadelphia. Aubrey Levinthal is represented by them so there is probably a familiarity between these artists and their works. Additionally, many of these artists spent time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). It is encouraging to see artists appreciating their colleagues work and providing them with opportunities to exhibit.
3. Is there a singular quality that you looked for in your choice of artwork?
Answer: As mentioned earlier, most of the artwork deals with painting although many could be called mixed media or are made of unusual materials, and some had a considerable amount of drawing in paint, ink, or oil pastel. Color and color theory contributed in advancing a sensation or meaning along with the materiality and its application. Generally, this exhibition is beautifully organized allowing each artwork to stand on its own without standing out from the group.
4. In closing, in the words of the “New Radicals” best known song, did “You Get What You Give”?
Answer: In all, this is a very extensive exhibition thematically—figures, still life, landscape, interiors; highly patterned, monochromatic, non-objected to recognizable imagery, even conceptual objects. Each artists’ work is distinctive to them and explores their own visual art concerns, perhaps looking at the work of what came before but making something authentic rather than imitative.
And to the refrain of this song there is some advice for all artists:
You've got the music in you One dance left This world is gonna pull through Don't give up You've got a reason to live Can't forget We only get what we give
This exhibition is like hanging out at a very interesting party.
"New Radicals" is on-going at Cerulean Arts through December 22, 2018. Cerulean is located at 1355 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. It is open Wednesday - Friday 10 AM to 6 PM and Saturday and Sunday 12 PM to 6 PM. To see or purchase the artwork from this exhibition go to https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/new-radicals.
Below is the video of the Artist Talk from December 8, 2018.
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