Around Philly

Painting the Picture

R. B. Strauss

June 15 2001


Don't let anyone try to fool you into believing that nothing happens in Philly artwise in summertime. There are always plenty of shows opening throughout the season, with June's First Friday the official start. In fact, a number of these shows are, in keeping with the time, somewhat summery. And the finest exhibition to fit those criteria happens to be "Introduction," on view through July 10 (and by appointment through August 31) at the Pentimenti Gallery, 133 North Third Street,

As the title states, this show introduces a sextet of artists who offers up an uncanny synergy that is at once fluid and rolling through with art that well paces these warm months. Also, the work is proof as to the ongoing prevalence of abstract painting to incorporate imagery drawn from the physical-as well as the psychical-world, with the overall effect achieved by these six being such that their endeavors bear repeated viewing for multiple interpretations, though through a single and singular aesthetic. The initial impression one receives from this exhibit is its elemental quality. Indeed, air, earth, fire and water are given ample space here to alchemize the gallery. In this regard, there is playful experimentation here, as, parallel to one another, Susan Abrams, Avy Claire, Cheryl Goldsleger, Kenn Kotara, Vincent Romaniello and Scott Turri worked to achieve results that would find its way to the gallery wall and thus expand in impact. Yet further attention to each piece yields an impulse beyond the elemental to a realm of purity vis a vis composition.

The art here is diverse, yet sizewise quite complementary. This is another reliance that affords the viewer something beyond the expected that is both sussurant in its ambience and totally holistic in intent. All this work is a source of healing, inasmuch as form and color blend an offering that echoes from one piece to another. The similarity between the work of Avy Claire and Vincent Romaniello, say, will definitely leave you believing in some greater power out there somewhere.

The Muse that sparks this work is one whose touch is light through the essence of how line and color often take hold of one without receipt. The totality of the show also affords the viewer to witness an ongoing process, in that the selections are merely that, parts of sequences of work by every artist in the show, thus one appreciates how each of them offers up but a portion only of a greater whole that furthers the parameters of the comfortable limbo between the ornamental and the decorative.

These were both dirty words not so long ago-now they have transcended any mediocrity attributed them and keep close to refinement of sensibility wherein one can lose oneself through the art's own pronouncements, even to a whisper. This work whispers, and the viewer is glad for it. Heavy on nuance, its looseness keeps pace with the source impetus, its goal a glory that veers fast toward a central image rooted in history.

There are touches of the past here. Cheryl Goldsleger, for example, subsumes the whole of Op Art to charge that long ago genre with an architecture all her own. There is a mazelike quality to her pieces, and their "monochrome" patterns are necessary. The subtle palette and tight activity make for a geographic exposure that at once denotes a situational emphasis via a dizzying attention to detail. Ms. Goldsleger's vision yields up a methodology in keeping with earthtoned earthiness. Labyrinthine and weathered, one can well become lost in searching this work for the Mandala deep within, poised between halves like reflections on a lake surface: This is "Tilt." The play on words here pulls a tight turn that grabs hold of a lexicography intrinsic to the whole. Brooding and shamanistic, there is entwined with the peacefulness of a fractal surge the belief that something runic is at work here.

Op art always looked to the future. Ms. Goldsweger looks to the distant past. Though precise and symmetrical, crop circles come to mind. One could also find these mockeries of the homespun in their intricacy, like some Goth samplers. Yet there is something wholesome in the muddy shades moving through here. Cheryl Goldsweger alloys eye with hand for an accomplishment that may reference Jasper Johns, though only as an afterthought. Susan Adams also alloys eye with hand. Her medium is photography, though her prints are not commonplace, but unique: transfers from camera to handmade paper to lend her work an even more organic feel. Hers is the only camerawork of the exhibit, yet there is a decided painterly feeling here. Black and white, the "palette" here aligns her work with Ms. Goldsweger's. Ms. Adams shoots flowers, and they are sublime specimens that emanate their own earthiness mingled with atmosphere.

Selenium toned silver prints, and applied emulsion on handmade paper: this is labor intensive and pays off in a big way aesthetically. Delicate yet tensile, each photograph appears fossil-like, while the texture of Ms. Abrams' handmade paper is nothing less than exquisite, and a unique counterpoint to the photography itself. Here, each petal of every flower holds a perfect frozen moment. Indeed, a calm radiates out while looking at these pictures, as if time has stopped not just for what Ms. Abrams has shot, but for the viewer as well.

Scott Turri also offers up plants, but his are a different breed. Just this side of silkscreen on first sight, these paintings are in reality a diptych depicting a pair of plants possessing identical form, though not color. This work is at ground zero of what has exploded today, in what I mentioned earlier as being that area between the ornamental and the decorative. This goes back to its roots grounded in the early Seventies, with the Adam and Eve of this groundswell being Joe Brainard and Miriam Schapiro.

Bold colors just this side of day-glo are another plus here, while the basic design is at once eye-catching and offers, in context with the rest of this show, something that is both timeless and incredibly ancient. This work could have been excavated from some tomb in Atlantis, risen from the sea. There is an ease here that nonetheless offers tension and continuity wrapped up in one package based in strong lines. I do not know exactly what the plant in these two pieces is, but there is a needed reinvention of the floral still life here that recharges that hoary genre.

Vincent Romaniello offers a pair of paintings, "Silvery Sky" and "Girl in Landscape." Both are oil on canvas; both embrace abstract motives-and then rout them. "Silvery Sky" is a pale work that features a series of finely rendered vertical lines which suggest a curtain. Indeed, both works are luminous yet defined as if a scrim hangs before them--or perhaps a caul. The airiness here is apparent even from a distance. Yet these are substantial achievements that flow like ectoplasm.

Though they boast separate titles, one definitely gleans a sense that--in keeping with the totality of the whole exhibition--these are but two works in a greater sequence. Bits of color suspended in solution, balls of coruscating lighting, atmospheres of an alien world and the cosmos itself, these are all found within this work, dense yet subtle with light and shade. Though no shadows are present, the brightness here comes in surprised countenance.

Kenn Kotara offers up pastels like fire, somewhere in the hearth of one's heart. He makes a fine argument in favor of pastel as a medium used for abstract art-yet like his compatriots here, the abstract component can be tipped onto its side and construed as representational. Twisty lines of color like rivers pour through these one foot square pieces boasting a wide range of synaptic allusions. If one stares at them long enough, these three works seem ready to burst the confinement the artist afforded them.

This work is calming and cleansing, but for their size the effect they offer is much like that of Mark Rothko in miniature and much busier, thus the deep-seated questions here alone are made over into a request of light, a spectrum's worth of meaning tight in line and pattern. Highly charged and deeply electric for all the close definition of art as natural essence gone fractal, the efforts of this work moves from one piece to the next in effortless movement.

Avy Claire offers a pair from the "Sea Smoke" sequence, and these are magnetic in their ever changing and layered approach to the metacranial. Indeed, the geometric precision here is something of a ruse, in that the stricture and structure allays one's surety into a false hypnosis. One's eyes move over these paintings for their detail, yet these same details are subsumed into the works' paradoxical totality to slide into easy synesthesia.

Still, if one works to follow the schematic here, one is rewarded that much more beyond the geometric and gridlike, for there is also a tonal quality that lends it a watery touch. Amid the molecular density come to light, there are also swaths of color, cloudlike and intense, that adds a counterpoint to the work and thus relates a chaotic touch to all the order. The relation between form and formalism transcends the simplicity to ration out instead emotive resonance.

"Introduction" supplies one with all that is necessary to come to terms with art that is at once fashioned and fashionable, with its strength intrinsic to both terms well on view. The six artists featured fit together just so, and one would indeed enjoy seeing more of their work in the future.

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all the artwork in this show is copyright protected