I brake for fleas and other things

fleamarketreadingtermStella and I drove to Chinatown yesterday and while circling for a parking space we almost caused an accident gawking at the big, 70-vender flea market on the sidewalk across from Reading Terminal (image). Call me out of it but I had no idea the flea scene was so organized here. Apparently, according to a young man at the organizer’s table, something called Philadelphia Flea Markets has been around for seventeen years! Anyway, this was a small one, he said. But a good one, I’d add. Check out the two campaign pins — going for $3 — true antiques, in addition to wearable art!

There are seven more markets scheduled around town between now and Nov. 6. The big Kahuna is On May 1 on the grounds outside Eastern State Penitentiary, 22nd and Fairmount, where there will be 170 vendors — and a positively frightening amount of stuff for sale.



Art up North


After fleeing the flea, we met Libby in Northern Liberties for the “North of the Border, Art of Northern Liberties” celebration, a one-day open studio and exhibition in multiple venues. Northern Liberties, a scrappy neighborhood north of Spring Garden centered around 2nd and 3rd Streets is home to an amazing number of artists and artists’ studios. There are a couple of galleries there and while I don’t get up there often it’s a good scene.


Drawing and painting were prominent and looked great in the ADM front office space and in the back gallery, which, if I understood, was a group show curated by ICA’s Assistant Curator Elyse Gonzalez.


Here’s a few of the things that caught my eye up front at ADM. Libby will tell you her thoughts too. Our friend, painter, Phyllis Laver had three large Phillip Pearlstein-esque portrait heads and two Leonardo-esque drawings on view that were just plain great. Laver’s accomplished with portraits and these large, bold, nuanced works were humanist beauties. (image right and left above are Laver’s three paintings. Detail is “Josie”)


And Jerry Smith’s cool, small gouache paintings of crunched cars and entwined bodies evoked Philadelphia without having to say so — they had urban decay, gray skies, and vulnerable humans. (image is “Pile on.”)


Portraits of people, portraits of lives

In the curated show in the gallery, Jessica Doyle, whose installation I had liked much at Project Room (see post of Nov. 30.) had a collaborative piece with Sarah Gamble that was similar to her previous PR wall drawings. Drawn and painted on thin sheets of unprimed plywood (that seemed to be curling away from the wall at the bottom), the piece is a kind of narrative of a life or lives. The ambiance is teen notebook doodle and the quality of the photo-based drawings is raw and straight-forward.


There’s lots of loopy, girl energy in the work and Stella connected with it big time. (images left above and right are details)


Leslie Kaufman’s large wood construction in the middle of the room held the space like a weird, Tiki surfboard throne. The dark, gnarly wood, the poles holding up the structure, the surfboard shaped floor, the suggestion of a chair, all came together to spell Hawaiian god or goddess on the move in calm seas.


I loved the piece. Kaufman, whom we ran into, told us something about the work — there were two entwined figures under a huppa — but she encouraged us to take our interpretations elsewhere — which I did and do anyway. It’s a strong piece and shows a great direction for the sculptor and head of Philadelphia Sculptors. (image left is Kaufman’s piece)

Portraits that aren’t


Upstairs above ADM are artists studios. Stella and I had time for two studio visits before she conked out. When we stopped in at Judith Jacobson’s there happened to be a little traffic jam. The artist’s family and friends all arrived together at the same time the three of us tumbled in. It made a nice crowd in the studio.

Jacobson’s work, which I had seen a while back (also at Project Room) impressed me here like it didn’t there.

Now I know why. What showed at PR were small drawings and not her strongest work. Seeing what she has in the studio made me reconsider.

Jacobson, who is a kind of psychic map-maker, uses faces to create what look like lacy fragments of cloth, but drawn. These are not portraits, although the artist uses faces as a take off point. But her process — which involves xeroxing and degrading the image to the point of disintegration — takes the work to another zone. Then she works back into the face, coming up with beautiful drawings that suggest many things — from maps, to lace, to ghosts or x-rays or some computer-pixillated approximations. Shroud of Turn, maybe?


In any event, the work I saw in the studio, whether large drawings on mylar or small drawings cut out and attached to canvas as if they were butterflies or other found artifacts, were bold and pushed almost but not quite to the point of abstraction — which is a good place to be.

I asked Jacobson what she was working on now and she showed me a bunch of drawing fragments in ziplock bags and shrugged her shoulders and said she wasn’t quite sure where they’d wind up but there they were.

The fragments, some light, some dark, were like face topographies waiting to be assembled. I loved them in the ziplock bags. They spoke to me of archiving and saving and the interweaving of daily life and the sacred . I got a chill looking at them. I don’t know what they’ll be like outside the bags. The artist needs to figure that out. But what I saw made me want to see more.

–photos by Stella