Alternative Central in Harrisburg, September-October
by Ricki Sablove

360 Degrees of Unity:
With circle as their theme, six artists
find common ground in diverse forms


The circle is an endless source of fascination, inspiring lofty rhetoric and cliche alike. To Vitruvius  and Leonardo, it reflected the measure of the human body. To Palladio, it was the most God-like of forms. On an everyday level, we find the phrase "full circle" expressing completeness. When we say, "what goes around, comes around," we suggest a belief in karma, good and bad. When we speak of a "circle of friends," we imply inclusion and exclusivity alike. Beneath the linguistic and philosophical meanings, however, is the circle itself, a physical form, ripe with visual, as well as verbal, meanings and contradictions. In the exhibition "Inner Circles," on display through September 30 at the Susquehanna Art Museum, six artists explore these possibilities and paradoxes in works that are similar in concept, yet surprisingly diverse in expression.

Conceived and curated by Debra Miller, "Inner Circles" features works by David Foss, James Fuhrman, Michelle Marcuse, Antonio Puri, Vincent Romaniello, and Tremain Smith, each of whom has brought a deeply personal vision to shared ideas. In the essay that introduces her thoughtful exhibition catalog, Dr. Miller writes, "Be it in encaustic, steel, oil paint, or collage, the circle, dot, and sphere unite these Philadelphia-based artists in a single focus ..." As mounted with great sensitivity by Rusty Baker, the museum's executive director, the exhibition manages to showcase the individual achievements of the artists without losing sight of the over-arching theme. This is accomplished through a fluid and intelligent arrangement of space and careful lighting. As we move from one artist's area to another, we wonder what the next one will have to add to the discussion. Yet each artist and each work manages to say something new and exciting.

The two-dimensional works of David Foss, Tremain Smith, and Vincent Romaniello evoke three-dimensional spaces. In Foss's paintings, the circles suggest the primal forms of the amoeba, cell, and geode; they are biological and geological, natural entities with both past and potential. Here, the circle is origin and end. In her large, earth-colored collages, Smith creates what she calls "mappings of the unseen." Her circles, confined within grids, serve as windows that allow us to see the bits of metal and paper that she has ironed below surfaces of paint and wax. For her, the circle is the link between the viewer and the bottom layer of the canvas. Vincent Romaniello's oil paintings, with their soft colors and gentle forms, belie a sense of conflict: his circles and ghostlike curves lull us into a sense of tranquility, until we realize that we're not sure if we are looking at organic forms or abstract shapes, at flat surfaces or drawings for buildings or figures. We can't stop looking, and we'll never know for sure. We are, if you will, going around in circles.

James Fuhrman's sculptures evince a sense of yin and yang, universality and contradiction. His "Winter Moon Light" is a solid, yet unsteady-looking, circle of welded steel, with softly curving half-circles on the outer rim and jagged edges within. Here, the circle is both continuous and interrupted. Contradiction is also at the heart of another piece, in which he imbeds a ring of gleaming stainless steel within a circular block of concrete. The contrasts aren't just visual; the smooth, shiny steel is sharp and brittle to the touch while the coarse block is surprisingly smooth to the touch.

Michelle Marcuse's circles are also contained in blocks, but with a difference. While Furhman's are in the block, Marcuse's are of it, captured, along with amorphous, even random, drops of color,  under layers of encaustic. The smooth, glassy surfaces provide a window into a tantalizing, impenetrable core; the fact that the blocks are 1.5" deep makes us wonder if, perhaps, we could peel off the layers of wax, one by one, exposing each stratum of color as we move to the core. The assembly of the blocks is equally fascinating. Two blocks, placed in a T- formation, may resemble four. The elliptical forms within flow between them; the circle here is tense, stretched, confined but always in motion.

The exhibition ends with three monumental works by Antonio Puri, whose "5" is the centerpiece of the trio. Set at the end of the exhibition hall, it provides the climax to the show. With its ring of three concentric circles arranged on a red ground, "5" suggests a bull's-eye; it is thus a destination. Because the larger circles seem to emanate from the center, the circle here is also a point of departure. Solid in the midst of splattered paint, Puri's circles provide a sense of grounding and stability, a fixed force in a sea of random events.Yet, upon closer examination, we see that the circles are not perfect, and that the artist has let us see breaks in his drawing. Puri has created a universe in a 128" x 113" canvas encompassing oils, acrylics, wax, and newspaper. The artist says that his work reflects his upbringing in the Himalayas, with its Buddhist, Hindu, and Roman Catholic influences; those raised in any culture could easily appreciate these ideas.

In fact, the six artists represented in "Inner Circles," while expressing themselves, could be speaking for anyone. In so doing, they provide a fascinating glimpse into a universe of infinite possibilities. It is not surprising, given the paradoxical nature of the subject, that we are left both satisfied and longing for more.

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