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  • By Ruth Wolf

Finding FAME: The Fellowship of PAFA Exhibition

Fame 2019, PA Academy of the Fine Arts Fellowship Show

at Hot Bed, 723 Chestnut St, 2nd floor, Philadelphia

Juried by James Oliver, Director of James Oliver Gallery

Juried group shows are always interesting. They reflect the group that organizes the exhibit, and the juror selected by the organizers to select the works and the prizes.

Maureen Drdak, Bryan Hoffman, James Oliver at FAME in Hot-Bed Gallery

This show follows that pattern in that all the entries are members of the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, therefore Academy trained artists. This distinction can be seen not only in the themes such as figurative, still life, landscape, non-objective for example. But also in the styles presented—Abstraction, Narrative, Pop, Impressionistic, Expressionistic, Surrealistic, Graphic, to name a few that were seen. Also, because this is an art school that is serious about the training of artists from art historical means, the technical qualities, that is, the use of materials, is beyond competent; it is accomplished.

You might think that this could make the pieces stuffy or old-fashioned. And even as most people would recognize these works as “Art”, in other words as Drawing, Painting, Print, Sculpture, the traditions of these “traditional” fields don’t hold sway. All the work is interesting, thought-provoking, and fun.

At this point it is helpful to know the Submission Requirements for FAME (Fellowship Annual Members Exhibition). First, one must belong to the Fellowship which means that the artist has been a student in one of the Academy’s Programs— Certificate, Post-Baccalaureate, MFA, Continuing Education—for at least one year in accumulated time. Membership dues for the Fellowship (a mere $35/year) must be current. Sizes for the artwork is no more than 60 inches (including frame) on the longest side for 2-dimensional work and 60 inches by 48 inches for 3-dimensional work. (I thought it was interesting that they did not give a weight requirement as artwork at the maximum sizes allowed can be quite heavy.) The work also must be properly prepared for exhibition which translates to increased finish and formality to the artwork and design of the exhibition.

2019 Fellowship Annual Members' Exhibition (FAME); opening, May 6th.

The artists selected for FAME 2019 by James Oliver, Director James Oliver Gallery (J.O.G.) Philadelphia are: Lauren Acton, Jennifer Baker, Michael Bartman, Cynthia Goodman Brantley, Inga Kimberly Brown, Paula Cahill, Harry Camarda, Alice McEnerney Cook, Carolyn Kline-Coyle, Maureen Drdak, Gail Ferretti, Steve Flom, John Formicola, Katherine Frazer, Phyllis Gorsen, Linda Fry-Goschke, Colleen Hammond, Bill Hanson, Hilarie V. Hawley, Deborah Anne S. Horsting, Warren Keyser, Mustafa Lamaj, Meghan Lawlor, Lauren Litwa, Emily Brett Lukens, Tom Mallon, Laura Marconi, Nina F. Martino, Nicole Maye Luga, John T. Meehan, Nicole Michaud, Nancy B. Miller, Thomas O’Brien, Tania O’Donnell, Arthur Ostroff, Johanna M. Petropoulos, Elaina Posey, Drew Rane, Lois Schlachter, Peter Smyth, Michelle Soslau, Barbara Sosson, Karen Steen, Beth Stoddard, James Stone, MihoTanaka, Carol Taylor-Kearney, James Victor, Ruth Wolf, Mehri Yazani, Dganit Zauberman.

Looking at the prize winners gives insight to the variety of artworks shown. The Mary Butler Purchase Prize winners are Holly Trostler Brigham, Fred Danziger, and Elisabeth Nickles. Holly Trostler Brigham’s watercolor and gold-leaf paintings called Santa Caterina’s Trinity has two parts-- a large figurative work and a very small piece showing hands holding jute tied into a bow. These paintings connect in looks to medieval iconography as well as to Feminism as each is a self-portrait intertwined with a woman from history. Fred Danziger is a former teacher at PAFA. His gouache on canvas painting, Lenfest, provides a bird’s-eye-view on a section of sidewalk and front steps to PAFA’s historic museum building, an area known as the “Lenfest Plaza”. This painting, with its strong geometry of the building’s façade and the dotlike humans recalls the step to abstraction as seen in the paintings by Degas. Elisabeth Nickles’ Harpy is a small bronze bird with a woman’s head. Not only does it represent in great detail the mythological beings, a fusion of bird and human, but it is an object that you wish to fold into your hands.

The Award of Excellence went to Tom Mallon for his detailed drawing Impasse. Impasse is no preliminary sketch but a very large charcoal and chalk composition featuring a rearing tortoise ridden by a male nude with a conductor’s hat, a female nude falling from the sky along with baggage that had been tied to the back of the tortoise, a jumping dog, an anguished nude decomposing in the grass, an alarm clock, a straw hat, a cloudy sky with a large moon and a dirigible. The ground is covered by marks that describe the texture and variety of grass disappearing into a mountainous terrain. This ground-plain rises from left to right like a wave emphasizing the vertiginous movement in this piece. There is a great deal of detail to puzzle and appreciate here-- the activity and references seem to me to create a visual “claim”, that is a statement, in a debate about Academicism.

Another artwork, an oil on panel painting by Inga Kimberly Brown called Captain Trick, received the Caroline Gibbons Granger Award. A male nude with an open captain’s jacket and hood on his head stands in contrapposto. He has his hand reaching toward the hood but I am not sure if he is about to remove said sack or has just finished placing it. Behind him is a painting of Venice on the wall and a pillow and suitcase. The floor is covered with a leopard-print rug. Once again this appears to be a “statement” piece. But I wonder if it is addressing ”Academicism” or “Feminism”. The title suggests the illusion of representational painting while as the artist is a woman and the nude male, it could be a statement on the female gaze.

Another prize-winner that interested me was the Leona Karp Sculpture Award to Carol Taylor-Kearney for American Prayer Flag Box: Red = Fire. When first encountered, I questioned if it is sculpture. As here the picture plane (a pane of glass) is stacked on the picture plane on top of the picture plane. Each of these planes has its own decoration which can be seen through the transparent glass. These five individual panes are sandwiched within a horizontal, embellished, free-standing frame making a 2-dimensional work into a 3-dimensional work. In some ways this is still related to painting in the form of “layering”. It seems a smaller version and response to Frank Stella’s 3-dimensional “paintings”.

The Lucy Glick Award went to Michael Bartman for his painting Passages. The work has a ground with shapes hinting to windows on a building face in light blues and violets. Over this ground are framing structures in mixes of yellow, orange, and red. The structures make a field of linear perspective suggesting deep space. But the paint never loses its tactile sense of surface creating a discrepancy of flat pattern verses penetrating space. On the one hand this could be an architectonic colorfield painting, on the other hand, , a series of Cubistic surfaces interplaying.

There are many traditionally painted portraits with their sensual forms suspended in atmospheric space with juicy loaded brushstrokes to flat matte shapes. All wonderfully painted and engaging. One of these is An Afternoon with Zippy by Colleen Hammond, the Berthe M. Goldberg Award winner. The palette which seems darker and muted along with the gestural brush strokes evokes the Ashcan School (begun by Robert Henri and long associated with PAFA). This portrait of a little girl and her stuffed monkey contains allusions to the early 20th century in the girl’s

surroundings and allusions to contemporary life in the clothes of the girl and her toy companion. Similarly, the H. V. Hawley Award recipient, Holding On by Katherine Frazer, combines color—blue; with surroundings that frame the narrative—leaves making an oval. This sets the viewer in a voyeuristic position of looking at the action of an older man holding the hand of a young child as they stand in a section of water. Both these pieces, Holding On and An Afternoon with Zippy share the sense of being of this moment, that is Contemporary. But they equally attach themselves to the past as if I am remembering. So the feeling is the delight of nostalgia and of the personal.

The Fellowship President’s Award went to Gail Ferretti for a digital photograph called Composition 4375GF. This was the only non-objective work that won a prize. Organic shapes swirl and disappear into a black void. The shapes themselves look delicate yet solid, like close-ups of porcelains. There is also a quality where they could be sections of flower petals and leaves. Part of what made me think of this was another digital print collage by Linda Fry-Goschke called Yellow Iris.

There were several Honorable mentions: Sunny Day in South Philly by Mustafa Lamaj, a bold and colorful oil on board painting; Reef Dance by Paula Cahill where lines form a trail through a beautiful blue field; Happy Response by John T. Meehan, a delightful oil on canvas family beach scene; and The Birds and the Bees by Phyllis Gorsen that cleverly intertwines two round canvases—one with a bird and one with a bee.

The venue, Hot Bed, is very comfortable, pleasant and inviting. It is a large, light-filled, plant-filled gallery space with studios in the rear. And it encourages looking and lingering.

All in all, this is a solid presentation and a show worth spending time with. Check out this catalog:

And here is a fabulous John Thornton video of FAME 2019!

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