An Uncommon View of the Commonplace
Close at Hand, an exhibition of artwork by artists Sheila Chimes, Elizabeth Heller, and Ed Kent, opens Cerulean Arts Gallery’s season with a nice flair. On the one-hand Close at Hand presents many paintings of traditional still life—that is, representations of known and commonplace objects. On the other hand, although the objects represented are familiar—I would even say “close at hand” to the artists who make these works-- there is an interesting twist to each artist’s way of handing such recognizable subject matter.
Sheila Chimes gives us paintings that are a masterclass of design. How does this work? The composition appears to be of objects scattered across a surface. This surface can be blank as in Junk Drawer (featured on post card) or covered with a motif as in Red Bill or Map. Each article creates its own pattern through coloration. In Junk Drawer the blacks, grays, and
whites become metal things like tools and hardware and an accent of brownish-yellow and red create a triangular path that takes us around the rectangular picture plane. Another relatively monochromatic grey work, Parts 2, is full of black, white, and mid-tone strokes. But what sets this off as a painting of shiny metal objects is the bit of a golden yellow circle that clarifies that this is not a grisaille but a grouping of stuff made of reflective materials. Similarly, in Map the organic-shaped, brownish objects of wood, stick, and branch reflect the outlines of land masses on the chart below. Again Chimes uses a color, and again it is red, to emphasize another relationship-- the meridians that are also present. As I examine each painting, I become increasingly aware of what a fabulous abstract painter Sheila Chimes is. Not that her realistic depiction of objects is lacking; it is spot-on. But she presents a view from above or nearly above which tends to flatten the picture plane and although there are shadows, these are tight and blended to the ground. In this way I think of her as being a successor of Edgar Degas. And like Degas her compositions ar
Elizabeth Heller is also a painter of still life but with completely different interests. Her
canvases are full of objects and she is wonderful with expressing the way light plays across different articles, their inherent pattern and texture, both dull and reflective surfaces. And although she can present these groupings slightly off-center, every last displayed object is fully contained on the canvas right up to, but not crossing, the edge. And there is quite a lot to see; the picture is full to overflowing and from a viewpoint that is both immediate and just far enough away for you to study both the objects and the paint. In this she reminds me of Janet Fish, another great female still life artist. For example, in Still Life with Autumn Scarf, a red, yellow, and green patterned scarf is bunched in the foreground. It may be falling off the table, but maybe not. In any case, it sets a barrier between the assembled objects and viewer. The table is set slightly to one side so that I can see its end and the supposedly empty space it occupies. But the mirror in the background and a little bit of detail at the painting’s left side tell me differently—this room has more than just this still life. Light and shadow, shiny and dull reflections gambol from left to right. A blue bowl tips to kiss the right boundary while inside the picture itself everything is doubly repeated in the mirror along with the hands of a possible viewer or the artist herself. Within the picture is a small bust. And I find t
Ed Kent does not make still lifes per se. Instead he creates assemblages of small parts into a structure. These parts are varied from mechanical and electrical components to small tools and hardware to trinkets and novelty items. Each piece is fitted almost grid-like into a composition as in Assemblage No. 9 and Assemblage No. 7 (featured on post card). He coerces the bits into a strict rectangle. But in Assemblage No. 9 all the pieces are relatively flat to the picture plane while in Assemblage No. 7, there is a layering where some parts expand over other parts. Not to be pigeonholed, in others like Arrangement in Blue, he allows them to stay free-form, that is, allowing the pieces to create the assemblage’s ultimate shape. He unifies his structures through paint. This is important as it is a factor is separating the constituent parts from their function, instead focusing on their qualities of shape and texture. From a distance certain recognizable shapes/objects stand out; up close one can get lost in all the bits and pieces. The neutrality of color in Assemblage No. 9 and No. 7, both painted white, keeps the interest simply on the surface. While in Arrangement in Blue, an Yves Klein colored piece, bigger parts thus less small detail and areas where the wall creates negative space within the composition integrates it into the room. But the shadows that it casts isolates it as an individual passing through. I recognize some of it to be parts from movie projectors. And the verticality of Arrangement in Blue, along with the blue color, also relates to it being a spiritual message, a totem of sorts. Kent further plays with this idea of the assemblage construct as part of an environment in Object No. 205 where the orange mechanical stands on a canvas of violet, white, and green stripes. This ground takes on the look of a floor, a baseboard, and a wall—a room. While the bright orange assemblage sits like a tinker toy, creating its own shadow. This could be the most “representational” work in
Close at Hand, artwork by Sheila Chimes, Elizabeth Heller, and Ed Kent is at Cerulean Arts Gallery from September 4th – 29th. Cerulean Arts is located at 1355 Ridge Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19123. You can also see the individual pieces of work (and purchase them) online at www.ceruleanarts.com. The opening reception for Close at Hand was September 7th, and the Artists’ Talk from Saturday September 21st at 1 PM is below. And, of course, stop by Cerulean Arts Collective members' gallery right next door. Five separate galleries, five separate artists... What a way to start the Art Year!