Picks for lawyers

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I think the penchant for Philadelphia representation in the galleries must reflect the abundance of lawyers here. They all need the touch of an original-but-safe work of art for the office walls, a sure-fire way to impress a client and project gravitas.

In spite of the archaic approach, I thought some of the work had a hint of deeper thinking than I’m gonna make me a pretty landscape or still life or figure study.

At Artist’s House, in a show closing Sunday, Leigh Gustafson’s landscapes (shown above, “Geneva Mooring”) seemed to ponder the universe and water as a symbol for reaching beyond the path of life.

Artist’s House is part of the PAFA alums network, and so it’s no surprise to see this traditional kind of work here. I’m not sure why so many people are doing it, in this day and age, other than the flat-out accomplishment of making something beautiful to look at. It’s unfair to say that all the work that has archaic looks is hidebound and lacks thought. But it does seem fair to question the choice to take so unoriginal an approach, and not to question it.

The show at Artist’s House includes three other artists as well.

Michael Allen’s “Freight Train” (shown right) also raised path of life issues – like where the hell did that path go, anyway. His atmospheric charcoal on paper drawings of places were the standouts in his work.

And Anastasia Pollard’s “Slayer” (shown left) was a standout among her figure studies and portraits for merging the classical portrait style with some modern content. The subject merging into the ultracool blackground was full of rock star attitude.

The Luis Borrero paintings, lovely sepia-toned oils, look like they were made in Italy 200 years ago in style, and sometimes, alas, in content as well. Only when Borrero moves to quotidien subjects that raise questions of why the old-fashioned painting style does he reach beyond.

The Old Masters of the Western Canon are not the only kind of been-there-done-that approach that seems to be all over the galleries here, lately. There are Old Masters of the African-American Jazz-Influenced Paintings Canon that seem to crop up a lot in Philadelphia. They too are especially nice for a lawyer’s office.

So over at ArtJaz, the pick of the show of work by George Nock was “Heat” (shown) a cast sculpture of baseball great Satchel Paige. The elongated figure mixed heartfelt hero-worship with comic style that snapped me to attention in a show full of work that looked far too familiar.

At Pentimenti, the show “Urban Light” of Tezh Modaressi’s paintings, again is beautiful, with mysterious titles taken from the Persian “Book of Answers.” The image shown is “They Sit With an Answer.” Other than the pleasure of interior light beautifully rendered, I didn’t get much out of this. The settings didn’t offer enough of a story to get me beyond the great paint, the excellent expression of light, an ordinary bare room.

For me, it’s the content as well as the beauty that brings me back to a painting, the suggestion of a back story plus some visual ambiguity. I’m looking for something that tells me about the world—physical and sociological—that we live in, something that tells me about the human condition. And I’m looking for some edge that suggests we’re not in safe terrain, that we’re challenging assumptions.

I hope I’m not selling all these paintings short, for they all showed accomplishment and beauty. But I can’t help but think there’s got to be more to art than this.

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