Muse at the Hues – Hues Muse at Mt. Airy Contemporary
Michael gets lost in a world of color and shape at Mt. Airy Contemporary's new show, Hues Muse. – Artblog Editor

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Mt. Airy Contemporary
Installation shot courtesy of Mt. Airy Contemporary.

A bazaar of coloration

It’s not often that the whole of an exhibition overpowers its component parts. But with the sharp, brilliant shapes, vigorous diagonals, and eye-popping colors that come at you from practically every direction, Hues Muse at Mt. Airy Contemporary is a show that does just that. With eleven strong paintings by four local artists, Hues Muse feels almost like a grand celebration of color and shape arranged by those avowed colorists, Josef Albers or Ellsworth Kelly. Everywhere you turn, some bright, otherworldly being or design faces you, or provides a window through which to peer, or presents you with something you cannot resist mind-playing with. Bravo to curator Andrea Wohl Keefe.

The four artists in the show–Clint Jukkala, Anne Schaefer, Lisa Haskell, and Mark Brosseau–are Philadelphia-based with ties to several of the city’s art schools, and while it’s not fair to say they represent a “Philadelphia” aesthetic, there are strong commonalities, including abstracted narrative works, a bright palette of colors, and bold compositions.

Mt. Airy Contemporary
Clint Jukkala, “Doppio,” 36” x 44,” oil on canvas, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.

Clint Jukkala’s portals of escape

Clint Jukkala, a Yale MFA and Dean of Fine Arts at PAFA who has exhibited widely, has three paintings in the show, each from the series that includes “Doppio,” pictured here. He has been producing this series since 2013, and many exemplars appear on his website. Prior to 2013, as Roberta Fallon noted in these pages in a review of his show at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, his work featured “nested squares and rectangles in candy colors [which] suggest doors of perception for all sensibilities and palettes.”

Jukkala’s hard-edged geometries have softened over time and his subjects have become more figurative and anthropomorphic. He has suggested that these new paintings are about escape portals, and perhaps they are escape portals. As in “Doppio” (the Italian word for double, which also refers to a double shot in the world of espresso), the two circular shapes which top off a column invoke the ocular (perhaps the mammary). With their shocked stare at the viewer, the wide-open eyes (“that fix you in a formulated phrase”) seem ready for battle or at least an argument.

There is tenderness and vulnerability in Jukkala’s paintings that may coincide with his recent passage into parenthood. Reviewers have noted their playfulness, their humor, their dreaminess. That they are reflective. Hearne Pardee, writing in The Brooklyn Rail, has aptly compared him to Philip Guston.

My idiosyncratic reaction to the central figure in Jukkala’s work is that it is like a wonderfully whimsical and colorful cross between Wall-E and E.T. (Wall-E is a waste-collecting robot who falls in love and embarks upon a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind, and E.T. is the stranded, gentle extra-terrestrial who longs to return home and is rescued by a young American, Elliot). Jukkala’s subjects are equally engaging, animistic, and provocative. Indeed, they are lovable. And the experience is sensual and pleasing, sort of like how you feel when faced with the unbearably cute inquisitiveness, innocence, or ingenuity of a child or a puppy.

I have long insisted–wisely not in these pages–that the child protagonist in the movie E.T., Elliot, should have gone home with the extra-terrestrial. Well, in Jukkala’s paintings, off you go. What, if not love, discovery, escape, redemption, resurrection, and return, are E.T. and Wall-E about?

Mt. Airy Contemporary
Anne Schaefer, “Conflicting Horizons,” 24.625” x 27.5,” Latex paint, acrylic paint and silkscreen on paper, acrylic mount, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.

Anne Schaefer’s doors of perception

Among Anne Schaefer’s three pieces in the show, “Conflicting Horizons,” like Jukkala’s work, speaks to alternate perspectives and doors of perception. The contrast between the bold obelisks standing in the foreground and the translucent window slats into a scene of–what? a sunset on the horizon of Mars?–is intriguing and captivating. The contrasts, like Jukkala’s, are set up by the ingenious juxtaposition of color and shape. Schaefer’s constructions almost always feature pathways into the beyond and rely upon the defiance of geometry.

Schaefer, a Cranbrook MFA (painting, 2007) and former member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid, is known for her transformative installations, some of which magically seem to convert rooms and spaces into their geometrically rearranged prismatic components. You might note a similarity between “Conflicting Horizons” and her installation “between the columns.”

Mt. Airy Contemporary
Lisa Haskell, “Sketchbook,” 8.25” x 10.5” (open), Mixed media, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

Lisa Haskell’s sketchbook and Mark Brosseau’s eccentric abstraction

In addition to three pieces in the exhibition, Lisa Haskell includes one of her sketchbooks, which clearly lays the foundation for her larger 2-D pieces, with their kinetic, dynamic, and organic imagery. She has written that she creates “otherworldly landscapes,” “imaginary worlds inspired by maps and landscapes.” Haskell’s compositions, like Jukkala’s and Schaefer’s, are radiant and, at least metaphorically, multidimensional.

Mt. Airy Contemporary
Mark Brosseau, “Positive,” 16” x 20,” Acrylic, enamel, Flashe, ink, and spray paint on wood, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

Finally, Mark Brosseau’s “Positive”–his single contribution to the show–fits perfectly into the exhibition. The aggressive mix of hard-edged geometry and hand-drawn dots and rainbow reminds me of Frank Stella’s early protractor works and later sculptures, and perhaps even Fernand Léger’s industrial-age homages. Brousseau’s heroic design with its terrific combinations of layers of colors and shapes, suggests mechanical symmetry and ingenuity. The doors of perception are open in this work and you’re on the other side.

The exuberant and exploratory bones of the work in this show shut the door on the argument that abstract art is too effete or too hermetic to be viable. These by turns playful and serious paintings are alive with communicative power and openness. Go see them.

Mt. Airy Contemporary is a wonderful, small outpost in Mt. Airy, a gift to Mt. Airy and to the larger Philadelphia art world, which is run by Colin Keefe and Andrea Wohl Keefe, two artists who are passionate about art and community. Somebody give these guys a medal!

Hues Muse will be on display through December 10th. Don’t miss the show.

Tags

anne schaefer, clint jukkala, Lisa Haskell, mark brosseau, mt airy contemporary, painting, philadelphia

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