It’s All in the Details
September 18th was the opening day for Cerulean Arts Collective Members' Galleries. The current grouping of artists share a keen attention to detail and to story-telling developed through documenting in their respective mediums, minutia, and detritus.
Sandra Benhaim’s paintings are layer upon layer of detail upon detail of color applied with
personal marks that become the words of her abstracted vocabulary. Her art is both about the quality of the color that can only be obtained by exploring materials and the techniques she employs. She reworks the surface to get a specific tactile tonality that pushes color into narrative. Nice work.
For example, in Fancy Free pops of color burst through a tremulous field of yellow. It is as though bunches of flowering areas appear in waving grass. Whereas in Reflective Impulse Benhaim uses a similar technique, that is, pops of color in a fluctuating field of color, to different results. In Fancy Free the introduced color is together at the bottom of the canvas and breaks up and flies away as it moves to the top. In Reflective Impulse most of the color is at the top and we see pieces of it as it moves to the bottom. In other words, Fancy Free flies away and Reflective Impulse floats downward like a landscape reflected in a pool of water. In this description, though, I am missing the layering and scraping that can be seen in the actual work. I can feel her hand picking, choosing, covering, exposing. Her technique using acrylic paint makes the canvas shimmer. But Benhaim also uses watercolor and even watercolor with collage in some works. In Untitled (Dream), featured on the post card, there is a similarity in appearance to Reflective Impulse. Yet it does not have the density of paint, only of marks. Here she strikes and places her materials. They must be more
deliberate because changing watercolor once it is put down is impossible. You live with each mark how it stands. In both cases the result is like looking at a jazz composition. The artist reacts to that action she has taken before. And each color reacts to its role in the composition.
A newer development in Sandra Benhaim's work is from her 7-piece series based on her visit to New Mexico. Each is a square composition divided into striations of color. The colors
Chris Feiro seems to be a painter interested in the quality of light and in traditional oil painting technique. Some of his paintings like Night View from the Studio #1 and Night View from the Studio #2, which sit next to each other just outside the entry to his gallery-room, suggest that he paints what he sees through a filter, as if looking through a smoky lens (#1) then a clear lens (#2). I find myself trying to squint to bring the objects into focus in the first while the second was a clearer vision. The slight change of details to the structures is less noticeable than the change of color and contrast. It almost feels instructive, as though he is saying, "I can make and change your reality simply with paint." Either way, in both the dark uniform tonality suggests a sense of mystery, a knowing and not knowing at the same time. This is even more apparent in Window (featured on the post card above). A shelving unit holding plants obfuscates a window. Through the window, in the background I can see a bright, fluorescent light shining. But this foreground, what appears to be a room because of the tiled floor, is dark. I am confused, maybe because the the earlier Night View paintings. Am I looking through a window in a brick wall into another building, outside a building looking in, or orjus
Several of his smaller paintings like Mask, Sheep Skull, Onions, hint at grisaille. The application of color, whether in underpainting or as a layer give the impression of a certain kind of light-- warm in Onions, cool in Sheep Skull.
There is a lone charcoal drawing among the other painted works in this exhibition. This does not feel at all strange as his extensively detailed work,
Basement (West View) is almost as much of a painting as its neighbor, Water Heater. Rather than a preliminary study Basement (West View) is so full of grays, so full of clarity in detail that it becomes the dank light of an underground setting. While Water Heater is almost monochromatic except for the touches of a yellow tag on the water heater and the reds on the cans of paint. Mysterious places done in labored treatment. The exception is East from 915 Spring Garden. In this painting the quality of light gives a crisp, sharp edge and brings everything into focus. All small architectural features are detailed giving the surface an overall decorative quality.
Pia De Girolamo’s paintings are simplified, geometric compositions of her experiences of a place, namely Rome (Roma). In som
e she explores and contrasts large and small color shapes that suggest cityscape; the repeated smaller geometric shapes add decorative architectural detail. In her largest works like Campanile Blu (seen on the postcard above) and Roma II, there is a stage-set quality to the work. With Campanile Blu I expect to see an opera opening; with Roma II I think of a couple romantically dancing from rooftop to rooftop.
Other works equally lend themselves to the imagination. A series on trees has organic and conical figures that echo the special umbrella pines and cypress trees native to the
Mediterranean area. Pines in the Villa Ada is a
whimsical watercolor where trees become colorful balloons. In Pino Giallo the outline and paint is murkier reminding me of clouds. Triangulation is a view from a balcony where De Girolamo plays with the pointiness of the roofs and the glimpses into hidden allies to pull out 3-sided forms. In Building Blocks and Il Quartiere, we seem to see the city at two different times of day-- night-time for Building Blocks, day-time for Il Quartiere. Her way of devaluizing spatial relationships to color, line, and shape remind me of Paul Klee. And like Klee in paintings based on villiages, Tunisia, and boats, she gives us a surface that has the light-filled, breeze sensation of “Being There”, the title she has given this exhibition.
For Carol Taylor-Kearney everything – objects as well as experience – is fodder for
manipulation. She observes all, considers all, and chooses which objects fill her pictures. Then they are assigned a role in the painted narrative on a used window. For the glass portion she uses reverse painting on glass technique. The window frames are littered with adhered detritus that is a kind of continuation from the painted glass. This detritus can also be placed onto the outer glass surface. This gives me the sense of the awe a young child must feel when she finds that next, new precious object, and then finding a special place to keep it. Each painting becomes a treasure chest to explore. The reverse painting on the window panes contain the narrative’s plot but it is the objects that tell the tale.
An example is Trees (seen on the postcard above). Taylor-Kearney paints the vertical and spreading grilles as tree trunks and branches. The divided spaces are each painted a different season of a landscape-- spring/summer, fall, winter. A sky is connected in the moon-window top. Pieces of broken glass serve as leaves changing in color from yellows and light greens to orange and red to dark green and opaque greens along the curved top. In the area below twisted wire takes on the character of trees in each landscape-- gold in the spring/summer, copper in the autumn, silver in the winter. Glitter, gems, small stones, pine cones and twigs are just some of the materials adhered. I see beads blossoming on some of the wire trees. And two bottle caps that have been folded are sitting on tree branches. Looking closer I realize that the shape made are birds. This is all very pretty but one the other hand dangerous because of the broken glass. Some of the same kind of treatment happens in Peters Valley where the frame brings together what seems to be a story of a walk in the woods. Starting at the top, left, the sequence moves toward the right where a tree unifies the top to the bottom panels. In the distance is a white bridge reflecting the first panel, above. Another way of presenting a theme occurs in Diana's Hunt. This arched window has the statue of Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens that is on the landing of the grand staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Other indications that this is about PMA show themselves in the bottom level of the window panes that have views of the Museum from a variety of locations. The middle section dividing the inside from the outside are skies and all the atmospheres of the glass paintings move from night at left to mid-day in middle to morning at right. The wood window frame holds pictures of the famous artworks that make up the Museum's collections while the glass areas have portions of artworks integrated into them. Less journey-like is Waterfall. Although made of two separate windows-- a long, narrow vertical and a short, fatter square-- it is a view of the highs and lows of what the name claims, a Waterfall. Although pieces of glass and debris along with carving of the frame relate to the painted glass picture, it is the beaded curtain that falls over the whole that reminds me of spilling liquid in its movement that expresses the state.
I was first attracted to Jack Ramsdale’s photographs because of their big color blocks and
visually lingered because of the variety of detail. This series shows clarity in even the smallest detail. He is a technical photographer and adjusts his Nikon camera to focus on not only what is close, also on what is far. Just look at the 32 inch by 44 inch archival print Ballyglass View(featured on the post card above). The composition reads up the picture plane, built by stacking structures only to end in fields, trees, and hills that expand and extend to a slice of sky. All are crystal clear which creates an interesting dichotomy-- a cubistic break-up of the space at the bottom and a painterly flow to the space at the top. Moreover, the bottom geometric, large shapes of grays, blacks, yellows, with touches of red are a startling contrast to the inviting greens, blues, and sprinkling of whites. I stand there and think about human civilization's action on the natural world and this melding of the natural world with their intrusion of houses (the white buildings along the center of the picture) and then industry in the roofs and structures at the bottom.
There is a succession of nice size photographs, all 11 inches on the one side and 14 inches on the other. Although some are vertical and some horizontal in format, all have a singular subject centered. These seem to be portraits of buildings discovered, either rustic buildings or small easily overlooked spaces. In every one the detail, the contrast of color or light or
textures releases the subject, the house or garage or store or office, to become an instrument in an abstract design. For example, in 617 a small gem of brick architecture glows as in a spotlight among darker highrises. The arched motiff in the building's windows and door are echoed by the green mail box in the foreground. In 17174 a cerulean box of a building sits in a field of cut grass with towering trees in the background. The posts of the house's porch reflect the uprightness of the trees while the slant of the building's roof is followed by the treeline in the back. Many of my favorites show nature reclaiming abandoned buildings. In On the Edge trees become a veil to a domicile. If a house could play hide-and-seek, this one does. In Fell to Her Green Reason an aging house is dissolving to the growths around her.
Each of the artists-- Pia DeGioralamo, Sandra Benhaim, Chris Feiro, Carol Taylor-Kearney, and Jack Ramsdale-- construct a complex vision by developing their own unique formal qualities. The picture plane is keenly nuanced by considered details. The eye is seduced. And you can be, too, as these artworks can be seen through October 13th at Cerulean Arts at 1355 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia or viewed at Cerulean Arts website at www.ceruleanarts.com.
Plus, take a look at Carol Taylor-Kearney's #OneMinuteCrit on Instagram below: