Northern Liberties and points south

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The scene in Northern Liberties yesterday reminded me of the ’60s, with people making music on the streets and paintings in random places outside whatever the official celebration was. I also remember when the Northern Liberties official celebration was more like the unofficial, random stuff. I am not yearning for the good old days. I thought NL never looked so good.

I left Roberta and Stella (see Roberta’s previous post) after our stop at 314 Brown.

The art in the other venues was a random mix of people with big reps and people you never heard of and people you hadn’t heard from for a pretty long time. I’m going to skip the big reps, like Mark Shetabi and Sarah McEneaney because they’ll get space no matter what sooner or later.

I enjoyed pieces by people whose work I didn’t know, like Lee Wilkinson, whose ominous blue and pink landscape suggested human pollution or some other emanation from human real estate.

Christopher Curchin’s large painting of wizened bodies and skulls floating like putti among the puffy clouds around a patterned, Buddha-like head, made me think of Chris Ofili and of the decorative art I see in Indian restaurants.

The red lollipop tree, duplicated in the pond of Marita Fitzpatrick’s desolate landscape, creeped me out with its balloony shape glowing red not once but twice. The hot-air balloon quality lightened the threat a bit and added to its mystery.

And it was nice to see something recent and bold by Ira Upin, with tribal textures and suggestions of a family and their door.

There were names on the list whose work I couldn’t find, too. As for studios, I never even got there.

But I did get to South Philly to see Thom Lessner’s show at Spector Gallery. Lessner is the ultimate fan, making cartoony paintings of his favorite rock groups and of his friends.

The series of rock-group portraits on pennies (shown, “Guns & Roses” and detail), with Lessner’s heroes shrunk down to nearly microscopic size, yet still visibly exuding their rock attitudes on top of presidents. Putting them on pennies instead of thousand dollar bills is ironic and sincere all at once.

Another standout was “The Bee Gees,” looking angelic over (I have no idea what you call those things, but they look like mini trays) patterns that bring back everybody’s mother. The no-nonsense flatness of the figures make them work against the wallpaper pattern behind, and the pattern changes the milieu and aura of rock stardom. This one also brings up the feeling of Byzantine icons.

I also want to mention the David Lee Roth series, each incarnation a little weirder than the one before, just like Roth in real life. The guy is odd. And the “Ramones on Lamborghini” shows the rock group added on to an advertisement for a white Lamborghini, another instance of divine justice according to Thom Lessner.

Getting away from his groupie imagination, Lessner also turned out a bunch of portraits of his friends and himself. With incredible economy, he catches an expression or a look that seems just right and personal, or a gesture that lets you know what’s happening. (Shown, clockwise from left “Andrew,” “Dustin, Michelle, & Roy” and “Driz Girls.”)

The show includes a display of posters he’s made for a variety of things this past year, all for sale at prices from $6 to $25. The paintings range from $40 to $700, most on the lower end, and the sold dots are all over the place.

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