The Admirably Familiar
Cerulean Arts Collective is exhibiting the works of Andrea Beizer, Sean Carney, Carol Cole, Maria DiMauro, and Gus Sermas this month. Three of the artists—Sean, Maria, and Gus—were previously reviewed for their Cerulean Collective exhibitions on www.whatsartblog.com. The
other two artists—Andrea and Carol—are also known to me. I had visited their work and even invited them to participate in a show that I was curating. So, I went to the opening with a certain level of anticipation which comes from being familiar with the artists and their art work. I already had a line at which I expected the work to reach in technique and creativity. Sometimes this can lead to disappointment, but in this case did not.
As a matter of fact, “familiar” seemed to be a component in each of these artists’ subject matter. And each artist came to it in very different ways. For Sean Carney it is scenes of the nightlife in the streets of neighborhoods he has visited. For Maria DiMauro it is in portraits of her children and objects touched by her every day. For Gus Sermas, it is his cultural history. For Carol Cole it is in reclaiming disposed objects. For Andrea Beizer it is in finding insight and wit in life’s circumstances.
I began my “gallery tour” as I usually do with the first room on the right from the door. This held Nightlife, the title Sean Carney gave to his exhibition. Indeed, these are night-time scenes along the streets of city neighborhoods, most featuring the illuminated store windows and signs of gathering spots like pubs and hotels. You would expect that this would make the coloration of these dark, dull, or overly
contrasted. Instead, what Carney has done is allow a palette of blue, a dark cool, to represent the sky and gold, a warm light, to represent the lighting. The reds, greens, and other mid-tones shape the people and objects. Their values are dependent on their proximity to the artificial light sources delineated throughout. And white is used to highlight the center of the glow whether it is the windows of The Carousel, the rain-slicked reflections in Bridge Street Crossing, or the street lights illuminating the environment. Colorful stuff! There is a liveliness and congenial atmosphere
here more like the paintings of Archibald Motley than Edward Hopper.
In my earlier assessment of his work I had said, “The paintings of Sean Carney, though not large, more the size of documents, are concrete and substantial. Made of wood panels that are carved and, rather than painted, stained. The imagery is of city streets and photograph-like. The compositions are casual, sometimes a little tilted or off-centered. This aids to their snapshot quality.“ Much of this is still true of this Nightlife series—the materials of stain on carved wood, the photo-sourcing for the scene from which he can pull out much detail that makes these paintings rich in interest. But he has also made some alterations. One is the size and even format of his paintings. Initially, most were the size of a document and rectangular. Here, the work extends from medallion size (and round as well) to the larger 36 inches by 24 inches, with most of them coming in-between. But the smallest pieces do not lack for detail and the larger pieces have a theatricality of disappearing into space like Go With the Grain or rising up into space like Mr. Dooley's. Carney has also added a glossy finish. On the one hand, this levels the surface to the work. It also brightens the color and sharpens the detail. On the other hand, the surface can be reflective, even allowing the viewer to see the brushstrokes of the varnish. It also changes my response. From my earlier review, “Because of their textured surface from carving and the faded color of the stains, they feel organic, like the shapes and surface just erupted out of the wood… like they are a piece of a tree telling me what they have recorded from their observation point.” Now they feel like beautifully crafted furniture.
In the hallway just outside her gallery are Knit Glove and Tee Shirt by Maria DiMauro. A striking arrangement of black on white and white on black, both are beautiful graphite drawings on rag paper. In Knit Glove, a thumb-splayed glove is made from layers of dark marks over a softly toned ground. Not only do these marks create the woven sense of the material but also pick up the tiny wear patterns, especially at the tips of the fingers, conspicuous in oft-used knit fabrics. Tee Shirt, on the other hand, is the silhouette of a shirt made from the multiple charcoal marks around it. The white tee has scores of grays indicating wrinkles—rather like the shirts I over-leave in the dryer or have done “wash and squash”. But it is also the tremendous, recurring mosaic of the background that creates the amorphous stretched-out look I find myself staring at. So much observation and deftness is in the two drawings, I can both recognize the weight of the hand and the weight of the different graphites used. As studies in contrast, these two create the mood for knowing that you will be finding the ordinary done to extraordinary.
The ordinary comes in the form of gloves, nests, rags, balls of wool or twine, packaging, towels. There are two reasonably large portraits—one of a boy curled up with his dogs, one of a woman emerging from the neck of a sweater. But in all this work there is a subtle and knowable quality of what is being drawn. And that quality is the sense of touch—both the tactile description of the observed and of the graphite on the page. In an earlier review I had said of her drawings, “Memory attaches to them, not so much records, their formality feels like portraiture.” And though there is a deadpan exactitude to these, there is also both sensitivity and humor. For example, Mop shows a twirling bundle of loose strings and a flurry of gray dust particles. And after viewing a collection of nests and loose balls of yarn – vortexes of materials swirling around a murky center—there comes the entanglement of Boy with Dogs—a sleeping child curled on a round bed with two resting and equally curled dogs—a vortex of love and protection.
At first you might take Carol Cole’s art work as archeological finds from a museum. And they
are artifacts in their way as they are constructed of found and collected items. But Cole does not look at the debris that she picks up from the perspective of their intended function. Rather, she sees them as design elements that are the vocabulary for each and every piece she makes. Moreover, she has also perfected the art of papermaking, that is, making pulp from left-over papers and rags, to create a functional base or armature for her arranged designs. Mostly, this pulp is painted and stained in colors of rusts, metals, and even a turquoise blue that made me think of patina for sculptures. And "sculpture" is the most appropriate category for these unique artworks. I do find it curious that each piece was presented as wall-hung because many of them would be equally comfortable sitting on a shelf or pedestal.
For example, in Stop and Go she has laid out a grid shaped by yellow golf pencils. In each square is either a green or red circle made from a sanding disc, and in each circle a dark bead. Although I can discern each of the pieces that make up Stop and Go, these pieces disappear into the decorative pattern that is in front of me. Of course, the brown surface that the pieces are on lends a say and I feel like I am looking at an embellished panel—perhaps made of wood or of leather. And that is one of the amazing qualities with this work. On the one hand, the found objects can be recognized. On the other hand, what they are or what makes up the piece is so fused that a transformation takes place. And she employs many of the same materials to quite different effects. In
Triskelion, she has the round pad with pain or bead in the center. Here, rather than placing them on a grid, she echoes in concentric circles the shape of the center hole out to three evenly spaced legs. The blue coloration also differentiates all the materials (even the similar ones) from the earlier Stop and Go. It also forces a separate quality and meaning—Triskelion is a rune, often symbolizing changes in life /state of life. But in looking at this piece, I also see an ideogram of a whirlpool and am reminded of the movement of galaxies. But Carol Cole does not just limit herself to building out of found objects. For instance, Come Together is a strong political and religious symbol where she has blended a Cross, a Star of David, and a Crescent Moon. At almost 4 feet tall, it appears like a pock-marked marker made of ancient metal. An emblem that should feel and be historical and natural.
At the end of the hallway, adjacent to the gallery holding Gus Sermas work, is a painting of a fleshy female nude on a rectangle of gold. This sheet has been placed on an unevenly
fractured surface, divided into quadrants. The golden rectangle (color and size) is in the middle and each quadrant bears a different patterned area, like little windows breaking through the dark. If the quadrant lines were not there, I would have said that these patterned rectangles orbit the figure painting. But the dividers make the ground stable, the patterned areas fixed. The larger rectangle with the nude is superimposed over all this and even overlaps the other smaller areas. When I look at the title and see Kassandra / Vision II, I have a clue. Kassandra is the princess daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, a woman gifted with prophesy by Apollo and also cursed by Apollo not to have her prophecies believed. I now look at this arrangement in terms of the Illiad and the destruction of Try and all those rectangles arranged around the periphery appear to be glimpses into the mind’s eye of the central figure, Kassandra. The other eight paintings of this exhibition which Sermas has
called The Trojan War Series have similarities to this Kassandra and to others I have seen in a previous exhibition of Sermas’s work at Cerulean Collective.
Previously, I had mentioned Matisse, and especially Matisse's regard for the window in his paintings, as a possible inspiration to Sermas. For this group, even with the huge difference in styles, there is something that reminds me of Cy Twombly's "Fifty Days at Illium". Some of it may be in the cloud, or are they flower, shapes I see. But mostly, it is the power and
conviction he displays in this work. It has an assured energy, and in talking to Gus Sermas I found that he was born in Greece and is both proud of and absorbed by this., meaning the myths of ancient Greece, his heritage. written that “Organic shapes play with geometric to form other worlds. Sermas’s paint application is relatively thick with active brushwork conveying an ebullience for life.” This can still be seen in this group of paintings. And he has increased his use of collage—mostly fitting two or more paintings together to create a new whole. But these are also darker works, both subject- and paint-wise. For example, the brilliantly colored Laocoon has black outlines and blue lines that appear and disappear. Much of the other colors look blotchy or bruised with gray or another color. Serpentine orangy-gold twists it way up along the right with green plant forms spread out along the middle. The plant shapes are made active by the circular sweep of lines
that cycle about them. With the pretense of a frame around the painting’s edge, I think of a “terrarium of hell”.
But not all is loss and confusion—mostly it is the “earthly realm”, the stuff going on in the world of humans that is dark and dense. In View From Olympus I and View From Olympus II, the tone is bright, the color clear, the vocabulary of lines and shapes straightforward. The idea of presenting windows has also disappeared in these. Instead, it feels as if Sermas is presenting renderings of pages. Are these the battle plans of the gods?
Andrea Beizer’s gallery of artwork is a continuous band of her Alice® cartoons. It could feel crowded with this never-ending line of white-framed ink drawings, but physically it doesn’t. What it does feel like is a manifestation of a stream of consciousness. Each cartoon introduces a picture of a woman, curly-haired and sharp featured, in a simply, but not necessarily economically drawn environment. I say “ not necessarily economically” because there is plenty of interesting pattern and enough detail to make recognizable the place and the situation and any other character involved. So, much is said with “simple line”!
The subjects of each cartoon may be Andrea Beizer’s own observations, but range broadly. From personal history to political stances, philosophical questions to life’s conundrums, all are approached seriously and with a quiet humor. So here are some of my favorites in each category. In First Date, Beizer brings that awkwardness of observing while being observed through shifting eyes, taking steps from one set of eyes to two sets to a murmur to Alice alone, walking out of the narrative with her dispirited comment. In Global Warming the beautifully rendered pattern of waves is all that needs to be said about rising sea levels. Dog Person is a complete portrayal of many people’s relationship with their pet. While I Could Just Scream presents the definition of angst—the anxiety produced by modern society and the vestige of hope or acceptance that allows us to go on.
One of the nicest aspects of Andrea Beizer’s exhibit is her biographical revelations on Alice’s beginnings. It is always enlightening to hear the origin story and to see a piece or two from the beginning. It should also be noted that aside from being a cartoonist, Beizer is an architect and a painter. One of her expressive narrative paintings can be found in the Collective Gallery along with examples of other Collective artists’ work.
Two of the Collective artists showing this month have expanded their wares beyond their art. Carol Cole has a “Come Together” mug based on her work of the same name. Andrea Beizer also has note cards featuring her Alice® cartoon as well as a mug. These are available both in Cerulean Arts store and on the web site featuring their art works.
This group of Collective artists will have their artwork on view from February 13th – March 10th. Unfortunately, the exhibition opening was Saturday, February 16th, but if you missed it, there is still time to see the galleries in person. Cerulean Arts is at 1355 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia. They are open Wednesday through Friday 10 am to 6 pm and Saturday and Sunday 12 pm to 6 pm. To find out more about Cerulean Arts and see additional artwork go to www.ceruleanarts.com/pages/exhibitions where there is a link to each artist by name.