For many who have grown up in and around Philly, South Street is the embodiment of youthful rebellion. Gabe Tiberino, however, had a head start on everyone who ever loitered in Repo Records or blew their allowance on spiked wristcuffs from Zipperhead in high school: the artist had his first show on South Street at age eight. Over a lifetime of exposure to the arts as a son of Philly’s most inimitable creative family, Tiberino has made a name for himself with murals that capture the feel of South Street and other Philly haunts, as well as portrayals of historical figures. West Looking East, chosen to welcome Gallery ML’s new space, Arch Enemy Arts, into the Old City scene, recalls the artist’s South Street and West Philly beginnings, but includes many other recognizable vantage points. The exhibition’s name is a nod to West Philly, where Tiberino was born, raised, and inducted into art. And the paintings in the exhibition originate in his identity as a documentarian of Philly’s streets.
Picking the most quintessentially Philadelphian of Tiberino’s paintings here shouldn’t be anyone’s objective; each of the street scenes shares familiarity equally. Joined by a selection of works he’s done of iconic figures such as John Brown, his street scenes are set in Dirty Frank’s, SEPTA and elsewhere. There’s a balance between the paintings of figures and everyday scenes, and Tiberino shows his versatility by employing a number of styles, rather than taking the same approach to each painting.
“Art as part of the real world” is a key phrase I keep seeing here. Tiberino’s transformation of photographs into mural-style works relies on the awkward candor of the subjects: a disembodied female leg here, a bored-looking face caught off guard there. He never stops directing you to mundane background events, moments, and gestures. The Dirty Frank’s painting, with its sheer size, is the strongest example. The girl in the foreground, gazing forlornly out at you, is riveting in her solitude, but after a few moments, you notice who’s sitting around her, oblivious to her focus. Then you see the regulars in the background, begin to think of them as characters in a tableau, absorbed in some riotous retelling of a lost weekend. Tiberino’s taken you into their world and given you authorship at the same time.
The textural and visual effects employed by Tiberino are similarly evocative and intentional. He’s transferred the qualities of spontaneously-snapped photographs to canvas – the prominent glare, the unplanned movements, the uncertain positioning of people in relation to one another. The rooftop scene surrounds two men in the midst of a conversation with other guests, but the off-kilter composition brings your attention in turn to each section of the painting, each person off in their own world.
The painting also takes great care with Philly’s unmistakable light pollution casting its wan glow over Tiberino’s partygoers. Then, in a respite from the crowds, there is the titular piece of the show, with its dappling of pastel sunrise over the buildings of Center City. Looking at the rendering of the cloud mass on the Cira Center and the gentle blend of its colors, you can practically sense the morning chill.
The gallery’s team, continuing their mission to raise the profile of body art, chose wisely in selecting an artist who shares their talent for blurring the public and the personal. Tiberino’s work reaches the moments caught in the margins, the seedy, quiet, and colorful characters and hidden stories and makes them everyone’s business.
West Looking East is at Arch Enemy (109 Arch Street) until May 25. Gallery hours are Wed-Fri, 12 PM-6 PM, and Sat-Sun, 11 AM-5 PM.