Uncharted Visions—Sculpture at Cerulean Arts
Unchartered Visions is the first exhibition at Cerulean Arts gallery for 2019. It had its opening reception on January 5th and closes (all too soon, I might add) on January 27th. When I received the announcement for this show I was anxious to attend. Unfortunately for me, life got in my way and I was not able to make it in to see the exhibition until this past Wednesday. (I apologize to all the artists involved that this blog on their show is coming sooo late!)
Uncharted Visions is comprised entirely of sculptures—a first for Cerulean Arts which generally exhibits 2- and 3-dimensional works jointly. The brain-child of Colleen O’Donnell, a terra cotta instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, it includes works by Alexandra Griffen, Suzanne Griffith, Peggy O’Donnell, Colleen Quinn, as well as Colleen O’Donnell herself. These artists are joined by their association to Colleen O’Donnell as their teacher. But there is also an association in their artwork. Most of the sculptures are composed of fired clay—some even of the orangy color we connect to “terra cotta”. All of them are of “tabletop” size even as they have the power to feel larger. They are all figurative and academic, that is, based on the study from life models. And as you move through the space you pick up on resemblances in figures. Which causes three responses. First is the difference in the handling of the material. Second is the different themes each artist chose. Third is the thread of relationship between these diverse works in the broader space of the gallery.
Cerulean Arts has the sculpture configured in ways that highlight each artist by grouping. At the same time, each grouping is laid out as a tableau. For example, when entering the front door you are met by two of Suzanne Griffith’s works, Odalisque and
Going further into the gallery is a series on a shelf, Untitled Small Heads # 1 - #5 by Peggy
O’Donnell. Some are of red clay and some are white clay. All are playful lumps where you can see the artist handling of her material to form a palm-sized head. These she attaches to a bit of wire, a bit of stone, a bit of wood. I immediately think of archeological digs where one comes upon artifacts buried in nature. Next to them are two torsos—Untitled Male Torso and Rainfall, a female torso. Untitled Male Torso is of red clay on a wood-slab base while Rainfall is white clay on a black enamel base. Both evince the process, that is, the fingerprints and cutting marks, the twists and turns of the clay making the surface complex and expressive. As shown in her “Small Heads” s
a torso that is similar to that of Rainfall. In High Relief and Rebuilt, a head is presented in a wood frame that is almost a box. The back surface is decorated, the eyes are enhanced by rhinestones (in High Relief); lapis lazuli (in Rebuilt) and the sensation is one of an object, a reliquary. O’Donnell has a penchant for heads, many augmented by other materials like dry pigment and graphite. This addition of pigment to the clay pulls in two directions— one suggests different substances used; the other, states of mind of the sitter or the maker.
In the back corner of the gallery, beneath Peggy O’Donnell’s heads, Man and Woman, are Colleen Quinn’s male terra cotta figure, Preparation, and female terra cotta figure,
Contemplation. Both figures are reclining but alert, reminding me of the Odalisque, the first figure I encountered on entering. But the
treatment of the anatomy of these two tends to that of older models—still muscular yet saggy. The white clay assists with this interpretation. It is as though their color, like life force, has been removed or bleached away.
Along a center axis in the gallery are three pieces—a bronze by Colleen O’Donnell called Mother’s Arms, a resin head by Alexandra
Griffen called Little Elf, and a terra cotta piece by Suzanne Griffith called Ariadne Abandoned. Ariadne Abandoned shows the Cretan princess sitting on the ground, one leg folded under her, the other bent and strained as though she is about to arise. In her hand she fingers a ball of yarn— the tool she gave Theseus to escaper the labyrinth of the
Minotaur. It has that quality of stayed action. Little Elf by Alexandra Griffen is a singular piece. First, it was the one and only piece by this artist—I only wish there were more! It is also of quite different materials than the other pieces—resin and silicone on an aluminum base—which makes it quite shiny. It says “Elf” but resembles a baby’s head—another distinction. One side shows the features of the head that can be glimpsed through all the other angles of observation. In its smoothness it reminds me of Brancusi’s Infant as well as the smooth suppleness of baby’s skin, and the glow of the new. In the front of the row is one of two bronzes by Colleen O’Donnell, Mother’s Arms. The aforementioned arms are sinewy—one hanging gracefully away from the mother’s body, the other shares a similar curve but this one encircles three children standing across her abdomen. The curves of the mother’s body and connection of the children to the mother creates a unit. The free arm waves to either ward off or reach to protect.
A second bronze sculpture sits toward the back of the gallery near the place usually saved for a piece by the curator. Called The Struggle, in this Colleen O’Donnell depicts a forearm and hand positioned as though holding a torch reminding me of the arm of the Statue Of Liberty. But in place of a torch are two emotive figures—one in contrapposto, one in partial recline. In some ways they remind me of flames. But in another way I think of them as tools reminding me what and can be accomplished in the hand of a figurative artist.
Ad Reinhardt, a prominent abstract painter, critic, and educator once said, “Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting.” “Bah! Phew! Ridicules!” is what I say. And the great artworks by the artists Colleen O’Donnell, Alexandra Griffen, Suzanne Griffith, Peggy O’Donnell, and Colleen Quinn prove how compelling sculpture is. Given their relationship to their work and to each other they would concur with a much less known but more accurate quote by Reinhardt, “I like the idea of the museum world and the university-academic situation where artists talk to each other or where artists or art students study with artists.” This is what Colleen O'Donnell has done, continues to do, and shows us in Uncharted Visions.
Uncharted Visions is at Cerulean Arts until Sunday, January 27th. Cerulean is located at 1355 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia. Their web site is www.ceruleanarts.com. Images of the artwork can be found at www.ceruleanarts.com/pages/uncharted-visions-alexandra-griffen-suzanne-griffith-colleen-odonnell-peggy-odonnell-colleen-quinn. Aside from the wonderful exhibition, Colleen O’Donnell led an Artist Talk at the gallery on January 19th. Below is the YouTube video. Enjoy!