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  • By Carol Taylor-Kearney

A Travelogue at Cerulean Arts Collective

Art has a way of taking us to places both familiar and exotic. The artists at Cerulean Arts Collective Galleries this month do just that. United in their approach, with bold color and decorative appeal, each of these artists—Lydia Hamilton Brown, Diane Pieri, Ruth Formica, Susan K. D’Alessio, and Liz Price— present a room with a unique atmosphere.

Lydia Hamilton Brown takes us to an alternate universe. She presents both two- and three-

Betty Lou by Lydia Hamilton Brown

dimensional works based on character—to be read here as both “persona” and “personality”. An artist who looks toward the fringes of society to tell us stories—last time it was crimes (mostly murders), this time it is the carnival or circus. She is an artist that philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault would admire! Her renderings tend to a Surrealistic style that is fitting for her subject. What I mean by this is that they are deadly serious, penetrating in presenting psycho-drama, and wonderful in making observations of "the other" accessible-- even fun. For example, the figures in her paintings and sculptures are biomorphic yet easily identifiable as “people”. So, in Betty Lou we are presented with a blue elephant with yellow feet or shoes in a white dress and veil. Betty Lou is a beautiful bride goddess who could make a singular present for any bride-to-be. If you want an expanded edition, there is Members of the Wedding, too. In another group, Troubadours (seen on the card above), we see a line-up

Members of the Wedding Party by Lydia Hamilton Brown

of individuals all dressed in costumes like madrigals or the Beatles of Abbey Road

Little Lame Balloon Girl (acrylic) by Lydia Hamilton Brown
Little Lame Balloon Girl (mixed media) by Lydia Hamilton Brown

fame. But with heads that can be described as doglike (for some), humanoid (for others), and having gawping mouths, we are thrust into a play conjured by Lydia Hamilton Brown’s fertile imagination. I will never see a boy-band quite the same again. Similarly, her paintings are rife with humour. Take a look at two works both called The Little Lame Balloon Girl—one that is a small watercolor and ink painting and the other a larger acrylic painting. In the smaller work, an ink drawing delineates the girl, her balloons, and the structures around her. The paint adds descriptors and details in pooling colors. The acrylic painting, on the other hand, is made up of brushy strokes to define the narrative with less emphasis on shape. Although larger, it does not feel more comprehensive than the smaller piece. Rather, they are equally expressive and share the attributes of automatic mark-making which make them feel freshly sprung from the artist’s hand and mind. And I like this mind! Given the tilte, "Little lame Ballooon Girl", the assumption would be a picture of someone damaged or pathetic. Instead we have two representations of an active and colorful person. It is, as always, a pleasure to visit the inventive and visionary world that Lydia Hamilton Brown conjures.

Day (1 Vase, 3 Medallions) by Diane Pieri

My next sojourn takes me to Diane Pieri’s magical, hand-made paper works. To visit this room is to go through time and place to the Mughal Empire that reigned in India and the Near East in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. (Most people would recognize Mughal style in the architecture of the Taj Mahal and public areas from the Shalamar Gardens.) Pieri titled this body of work “Day to Dusk” and there is a visible contrast between the “Day” works and the “Dusk” ones. Basically, the “Day” works are vivid in color while the “Dusk”, as would be expected, are quieter with light blue or grayish grounds. Both carry many flower motifs and have gold accents that add to their decorative appeal. Day (1 Vase, 3 Medallions) is the most symmetrical of these pieces. With a similar scalloped border at the top and bottom, the page is divided into four quadrants around a central rectangle. Across the middle of the rectangle are three medallions. And a vase within a yellow-orange bubble sits at the bottom left. I find this piece meditative, not just du

e to the balance but my perception of symbology. As a whole, it feels like a bird’s eye view, actually more of a cosmic view, of a Charbagh (an Indo-Persian quadrilateral garden). I see the medallions as three phases of the sun—the yellow as morning, the pink and black as noontime, the black as night. The vase, by its position, reminds me of a “You Are Here” star on a map. But a vase is a holder of water and flowers and this one is contained in its own sphere. So, I project the vase as a person, lost in the contemplation of their world. Another “Day” piece provides an entirely different view-- one more like looking at an abstracted scene. Day (2 Vases) has the scalloped trim edge, too. But only at the top is there the thin gold trim as seen in Day (1 Vase, 3 Medallions). Instead, the bottom has an area of green pattern followed by the gold trim as my view moves toward the center. Altoget

her, I see the patterned papers as regions of a landscape—a road or waterway at the bottom, blue sky filling in most of the left, the silhouette of a red and pink tree growing out of green grass dotted with red flowers, a path of orange rectangles making a bumpy diagonal from top, near-right to bottom, left. Then there are the two vases from which flowers seem to effervesce. They stand so close they remind me of two friends having an intimate conversation in a fragrant, enchanted enclosure.

The “Day” pieces are unframed, attached to the wall like hangings—which is appropriate as they have a textile quality. The “Dusk” pieces, though\, are all framed. Again, fitting to their qualities—deckled edges, muted color with hints of gold, colors and patterns that seem to fade in and out of the background. They appear older, venerable, mysterious. In Dusk 1, pools of gold are attached to the outer edges on three sides of this piece—top, left, right. At the bottom, the trusty vase just breaks the surface to come into the space. From the top, a row of interlocking, gold, hexagonal shapes create a road into the interior of the artwork. Is this a moonlit path or is it more metaphysical? A path or bridge through a garden paradise to a realm we can only imagine?

Ruth Formica takes me to a different paradise. One where I am safely tucked in a cheerful

Mermaid by Ruth Formica

interior with lush appointments from which I can view, through an open window, pools and a seaside vista. This is a sunny room! Many of these interiors of still lifes with an open window remind me of the paintings of Jane Freilicher. But Freilicher’s paintings focused on the still life as a counterpoint to either a more subdued urban pastoral scene or Northeast bay coastal scene. Formica takes things a step further. Her colors convey the boldness of the tropics and she adds her own imaginative embellishments. In some, like Flowers and Garden Faerie

Visitors by Ruth Formica

or Lilies and the Dragon, what might be a ceramic figurine adds a flight of fancy. In others, like Blue Jay Morning, birds stop by to call. A small bird, too, appears in Mermaid but it is less noticeable as it is in the shadow of a plant. And then there is a mermaid, yes a MERMAID swimming in the pool! As enjoyable as the narr

ative elements are in these works, the approach to painting is equally striking. Ruth Formica is a great abstract painter who can deliver space using flat color and shape. Take, for instance, Still Life with Key Limes. She builds her painting from bottom to top with front, lower shapes overlapping those further up and back. Yet, she never allows the color to lose saturation. Another beautiful example is Visitors. Here she places a curtain with a pattern on the left. The pattern itself does little to turn to show the contours of the curtain. Instead she shifts the ground-color slightly toward a blue and uses a curled edge-line to show the folds of the material. The paintings’ sizes emphasize the sense of “looking through a window”. All I need to complete my vacation in this room is a chaise lounge and an umbrella drink.

Black Veil by Susan D'Alessio

Susan K. D’Alessio presents a room of sophisticated collages. Given the curvy shapes of decorative patterns in a palette of relatively light tones, it seems I have arrived in Paris with its Rococo art and fashion industry. My first instinct is to think of these as “crazy quilts”, but

there is too much organization and careful layering of the pieces. These are more like paintings in their approach and I think back to the first body of work I saw by D’Alessio at Cerulean Arts—work based on “fire”. There were flame-like shapes and coal-darks surrounded by smolder. And like a fire, a layer of one paint could be canceled out or devoured by another. And these seem to be characteristics in the new works as well. In Black Veil a forked, crystal embellished length of tulle moves across the work in a top to bottom diagonal. It reminds me of the mid-section of a model moving down a runway creating the fabulous close to the fashion show of the other assembled patterns. And just like a fashion show, the last look casts its shadow on the rest. The colors and composition chosen brings to mind other references. In Arleen’s Blues several sets of similarly patterned material overlap producing a “sky” sensation. Areas of white canvas stay exposed forming clouds and atmosphere. While a light blue area floats out of the canvas

carrying with it two other pillow-like patterned pieces on the right side, a red and blue floral triangle juts up from the bottom left like the top of a pine tree. Some of the other pieces are not so conceptually rendered but feel more as stages to set up the top, large, overlapped centerpiece. In Orange Tiles, swatches of pieces, differing in vividness cause a push-pull between the patterned shapes. On top of these a section containing interlocking squares in orange, each with its own paisley interior, is introduced.

Orange Tiles by Susan D'Alessio

Strangely, in all the artwork, the variety of pattern is not disturbing. The size and placement of the collage elements is careful making for a balance in color and density of the pattern that does not disturb the whole. In D’Alessio’s way of arranging a single predominant shape (predominant, generally in terms of color and value, not necessarily in size), I think of these works as metaphors of experience. Each patterned block is a snippet. There is the experience you are in NOW, but in the background run the experiences from earlier. So, patchwork, maybe; compilation, definitely.

Arrangement: Weeping Scarf by Liz Price

Liz Price is an artist who seems to be channeling Henri Matisse and his paintings from the Mediterranean. Her painterly approach, again like Matisse, seems to go in two different

Pool Railings and Palms by Liz Price

directions when it comes to color. In some like Arrangement: Weeping Scarf, she keeps to the pastel tones that welcome quietude and contemplation. In others like Gerber Daisies, Lily, and Scarf, the color is more riotous and Fauve. In both the analogous-complementary color scheme provides balance. For the most part, the artworks are crowded with objects and the marks that make up these objects. Again, in Arrangement: Weeping Scarf, a cluster of orangy-yellowish tables and a stool block us from entering a room with another table with a white cover. I think of a bride encircled by her bridesmaids, and it feels reinforced because each furniture-piece holds its own vase of flowers. Although a square composition, the upper half is made up of a washy pink. You would think that all the attention would be focused at the bottom, but you would be wrong. A twisting shape descends from the top, middle of the canvas. It ends in a touch to the flowing, white table-cover. Our eye is driven up from the bottom by this coral tornado form. The softness of the colors, their analogous link, and the relative emptiness of the top ha

lf of the composition creates a sense of airiness while the paint itself funnels us from top to bottom and bottom to top of the composition. The general feeling to all this work is a

lovely nonchalance. It is helped by the casualness of paint quality, that is, how the paint is applied to the canvas or panel. Price seems to be using a soft brush to move the paint around. Three “porch” paintings-- at least that is how I think of them, I could have just as easily said “David Hockney-esque” paintings because of the blue rails that define the space— remind me of Hockney’s paintings of his terrace and garden in LA. Each uses her brushstroke

Sun Porch Still Life (Bromeliad) by Liz Price

differently. In Pool Railings and Palms the brushwork is controlled. Every area is defined by the pattern and overlap of color it contains. In Pool the brushwork is more languid— areas are filled-in or not quite filled-in. Sometimes the paint application follows a specific direction that helps define the object (as in the railing and the leaves on the palm. At other times, as with the pool, they are just that—pools of a cool blue paint. By the time I get to Sun Porch Still Life, the paint has become messier. Not so much haphazard as improvisational. It appears that Price is using a wet-on-wet technique to quickly get down the way that the living, animated plants are interacting with the unmovable rail. It looks like a rabble of colors are imprisoned behind stripes. That these three pieces are on a wall just outside the entry to Liz Price’s gallery is convenient. It is a nice preparation to appreciating what will be seen in the interiors and still lifes.

The art of Lydia Hamilton Brown, Diane Pieri, Ruth Formica, Susan K. D’Alessio, and Liz Price can be seen at the Cerulean Collective Galleries through June 2nd. Cerulean Arts is at 1355 Ridge Avenue and is open Wednesday – Friday 10 AM to 6 PM and Saturday and Sunday from Noon until 6 PM. The artwork, its availability and prices as well as more information on each artist can be found by going to then clicking on the artist’s name. And you could also visit Cerulean Arts Facebook page at

This is a wonderful grouping of artists, well worth stopping by to travel to each of their spheres. In the meantime, click and watch a “One Minute Crit” video, hosted by me on Instagram and YouTube.

Lydia Hamilton Brown:

Susan D’Alessio:

Ruth Formica:

Diane Pieri:

Liz Price:

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