Sojourns at Cerulean Arts Gallery
On a beautiful afternoon in the city of Philadelphia, I traveled to Cerulean Arts. Leaving the agreeable sunlight outside was tough, but I was richly rewarded with colorful and bold interpretations of Nature inside by the artists Ruslan Khais, Gerry Tuten and Magda Vitale.
Their exhibition titled “Sojourns in Nature” was precisely that and so much more. “Sojourn”, as the sound of the word implies, links to a journey or visit. And these works, all paintings, seem to be celebrations of the natural world with connections to Art History. For Khais, I thought of the Cubists; for Tuten, the Impressionists and Post Impressionists; for Vitale, Lyrical Abstraction. But these are not imitations or paeans to bygone ways of thinking and expressing. Rather, Khais, Tuten, and Vitale use techniques reminiscent of these movements almost as filters through which they channel their individual experiences.
The “Cubism” of Ruslan Khais is more in line with that of “Orphist Cubism”— artists like Robert Delaunay and Paul Signac. Part of this is his brushwork of dense, boxlike strokes and bold color. But
unlike Delaunay or Signac, Khais layers his paint color one over another to create a patchwork. And this use of color and shattered handling of paint cause the surface of these works to glow like fragmented stain glass windows. (It should be noted that his paintings are about the size of a window.) It is also interesting the different ways that this technique is employed. In Sonnett strokes of cream-colored paint unite to form vertical bars over a section of blue (at the top) and more earthen colors to form a grove of trees in a wood. It reminds me of a spring awakening. In Small Waterfall, the entire painting is an assortment of broad strokes, some smaller toward the top and larger toward the bottom. Moreover, the colors toward the top are lighter in value—more pastel-like—than the bottom. This provides a descending movement from top to bottom making the bottom, right into a darker pool. That there are more white blocks of color mixed with the lighter color on the left, lends a descriptive sense of a mist springing from the painting. Sunset and Blue Shadows is one of three paintings where we can see remnants of a representational landscape through the medley of painterly geometry. Here, the patchwork not only describes the long shadows made by the surrounding trees but also becomes a formal element of revelation. It feels as though the landscape is being tucked away to bed by the coming darkness. While in Blue Shadows Coral Pink Sunset the patchwork seems to be curtains closing on the end of the day.
Gerry Tuten is very representational in her handing of light by using color to describe it. In this
way, she is beautifully Impressionistic. But she goes beyond expectations in her color choices and her brushwork is expressionistic-- individual in style and more concerned with shape, color, and texture than just representation. In her most representational work, Woods, Tuten uses a rather limited palette of green, yellow, and red. The touches of her brush create not only the texture of the objects but the movement and the contrasts of planes as our eye is sent up, down, and across the picture. The dynamic diagonal she employs here is not only interesting but leads to further consideration of the place— perhaps a hillside-- and an interpretation of growth and change as part of the natural world. This possibility of
growth orchange or reconsideration seems at the heart of her work. The colors may be limited—she works a lot with complements and black and white—but the dollops and sweeps and turns of the paint make your eyes dance along with them as in Peony #2. Strangely, when I first looked at this beautiful piece I thought it might be a water scene. (And Tuten has included several of the Avonmore River in this exhibition.) Part of this was due to the shimmering paint quality and also the separation of the pink shapes from the green ground. Silly me! Peonies, like many other blooms, seem to float in their leafy surrounds. A more earth-bound version of flowers can be found in Garden where pops of red and blue burst from the yellowish earth and green flora in a dramatic display.
Magda Vitale makes me feel as though I am inhabiting her paintings—like a bug inhabiting a
garden. What do I mean by that? Partly, I am talking about the perspective she is presenting. Most have more information filling the bottom of the piece when compared to the top. This makes me feel as though I am looking up—or in art terms, “a bug’s eye view as opposed to a bird’s eye view”. In works like An Escape, Colors and Dreams, and Last Dance, to name just a few, I can follow lines and shapes directionally from the bottom edge up to, first, a complicated area of shapes and color, and then to an area that is more of a void, that is atmosphere or sky as opposed to devoid of color. And as with lyrical painters, color is an important component to these paintings. They are all light-filled and harmonious, fitting for paintings that seems to be a lived experience of a garden. For example, in Making a Garden, green crowds the base like earth holding to a plant. The green branches up culminating
crowds the base like earth holding to a plant. The green branches up culminating in violet flower-petal forms. The light blue on the left side has little dots of color like pollen or pollinators floating. The sunshiny yellow, on the other hand, comes in from the top right and spreads itself around to bring a touch of warmth to everything. Quite a representation of a garden—hinting at how a garden looks, how it acts, and the colors of the garden as a metaphor. Conversely, Intuitive Journey places me squarely in the face of
a large blue shape with deeper green attachments. A washy pink and equally washy yellow sandwich the cooler blue and green areas-- pink taking the top left corner, yellow the bottom right corner. The compositional setup color-wise is a classic “color-reversal” of cool color (blue and green) coming forward against warm colors (red and yellow) going back. Aside from the blackish lines throughout the painting, the green, which backs the blue against the red ground, is the darkest value. The blue and the red are almost the same value while the yellow is the lightest. This strategy makes the green critical in setting the blue forward, emphasizing the importance of the blue flower shape. Vitale may have come to this intuitively, but I see this as a riff on portraiture. Rain is one of the most different and abstracted of Vitale's paintings. Rather than shapes and lines sprouting from the bottom, shapes of loose color pool and puddle around the surface making me think of looking out a window at a leafy neighborhood. Moreover, the effects of the color are reminiscent of a painting that has gone rinsed through water.
"Sojourns in Nature", the paintings of Ruslan Khais, Gerry Tuten, and Magda Vitale will be at Cerulean Arts Gallery from May 22nd until June 16th. If you have not had a chance to see this exquisite show and want to know more and view the artwork online go to https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/sojourns-in-nature .
On June 8th Cerulean Arts presented an Artist Talk. Enjoy it by clicking below!