First Friday ups and downs

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This was not the world’s best First Friday, what with a number of galleries closed for the holidays and a number of second-string shows up. But there’s still some quality out here and there and somewhere.

The clear high point was at Vox Populi, which is showing off its new members in a group show. I don’t want to say too much because I know Roberta wants to post on this but I can’t help myself and have to put in a couple of comments.

First of all, our sometime contributor Samantha Simpson is on a roll. She had some drawings up at Gallery Joe, which we glowingly reviewed last month for First Friday; she has an airbrushed and stencilled mural installation at Vox; and she has a show coming up in September at the Philadelphia Art Alliance for which she’s hard at work completing a bestiary in a box. (Top and left, detail views of Simpson’s installation at Vox, “Incident at the Rockyview”).

What I love about Simpson’s work is the way it looks like a storybook illustration yet has a larger mythic quality that keeps you wondering as your eyes keep wandering, the quandaries of the animals and their place in the universe like your own.

Somehow, I managed to miss a lot of the work when I was at Vox, so this is not a comprehensive or complete set of comments on what’s there. I enjoyed a couple of paintings by Amy Adams that seemed strongly influenced by computer-generated screen-saver patterns. The press release suggests a comparison to landscapes, and they certainly had a quality of roiling hills or varying altitudes, but they also reminded me of intestines and industrial production and amassing via conveyer belt of multiples like cigarettes or candy.

The blue image had some sneaky little depth charges in between the proliferation that suggested a nether world beneath our bubbling and roiling daily excess. (My shot of the blue image came out too flat a blue, so I’m showing the green, right, which retains its pop in spite of the flash-flattened center; besides you can check on the Vox site for the blue one.) The finish on these paintings was smooth, with controlled edges, which made me think they were silk-screened and airbrushed, but I do not know this for sure.

I’ll also put up an image of Eva Wylie’s hand-pulled silkscreen installation, “Crowned,” the images drawn from a computer search of the word “crown,” decontextualized and arranged in a lyrical, decorative pattern filled with subversive commentary(left, a detail of Wylie’s piece).

Others showing there included Anne Schaefer, Gabriel Boyce, Stefan Abrams and Linda Yun. As I mentioned, I missed entire swaths of this show. I’m feeling guilty toward these artists and in no way is my leaving them out a statement of judgment. I’ll see what Roberta writes, and may come back at this show later.

Fresco rainbow

At Wexler Gallery, I spent some time with Mark Bennion’s “Frescoes” exhibit of squares of layered rich oil colors on plaster on paper mounted on canvas. These were pretty minimal–glowing squares of color, with dark uneven edges that made me think of the edges of early photographs.

Small squares of black or brown or deep deep red suggested tiny windows in enormous walls, or the holes that are reminders of where the beams used to be before the renovations. Dark fissures looked like lightening on a negative or scratches on the positive. Some pieces had more texture than others; some had marks that looked like fingerprints and rain. But the plaster plus the distress marks evoked ancient walls at the same time that the paint looked not at all ancient.

These were easy to look at for a long time, rescued by their thoughtfulness and concentration from falling into mere decoration. The layers here were keys to the work–layers of support media, layers of paint, layers of the past leaving their marks on the present for us to contend with.

Shroom love

At Gallery 222, Deanne Cheuk is showing mushroom-obsessed work of mostly oils and computer prints. Cheuk has a strong sense of design and fashion, and some of her mushrooms look like spinning girls or dervishes with Fortuny-pleated skirts (right, “Undersided 02” oil on canvas). But many of the pieces included small nudes with mushroom heads or just small nudes romping among the mushrooms, and all I could think of was Henry Darger and his Vivian Girls, although I admit the mushroom girls weren’t quite so creepy.

 

Cheuk’s technique is terrific, painting trompe l’oeil collages and trompe l’oeil windows to the wall behind. The flat surfaces look like silk-screened areas and airbrush work for the most part. Overall, these were slick bits of packaged hipness (left, “Mushroom Nights Collage Boy 2,” oil on canvas).

The gallery notes described the paintings as psychedelic; I wondered if that’s why mushrooms were the subject (I wouldn’t know a potent mushroom from a shiitake); maybe she was high when she made them, but as visions go, these felt pretty calculated.

As Roberta said, we were there early, and that I got in when I did was thanks to the kindness of the 222ers, so I ended up leaving before the artist arrived and didn’t get to ask her my questions about why mushrooms, etc.

The opposite of calculated

 

I also saw some paintings at PII at 2nd and Race that were heavy on the process approach. A little calculation can be a good thing, in my view.

Nonetheless, in the front room, Cathleen Hughes’ “Elements” (right) had a pleasing mappy quality. Hughes, by the way, has a painting going up at a Germantown Avenue mosque as part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

In PII’s back room, Paris resident Odetka Tuduri expressed personal angst with slashing, serious, expressionist strokes–painterly process that didn’t reveal attention to the decisions behind the process.

The highlight was Tuduri’s whirling figure in a swivel chair, the awkward giant feet in Converse hightops reminding me of the comic strip “Zits” (left). I like a sense of humor.

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