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1801 Overture

I met the artists of 1801 Howard St. over the weekend. They were kind enough to show me around the studio/living spaces and the exhibition they had in the ad hoc gallery they created in their warehouse building in Kensington. I had missed their one-day open studio event the previous weekend. (Left to right are Jon Reeb, Brian Boutwell, Carrie Cook, Michael McJilton, Steven Earl Weber, John Gibbons, Isobel Sollenberger, Ellen Fleming and Sonny Fleming. Other members of the group not pictured are Patrick Beckhorn, Angela Lackey, Naomi Litell and Jon Schoff.)


I’ll run some pictures from the group exhibit here and save the studio shots for the next post.

The artists live in apartments carved out of the old warehouse and the whole building — which used to be a pewter figurine factory they think — is like a vertical gypsy encampment — one exotic hand-fabricated space after another, everything fashioned by the current or previsous resident. The building is owned by Joe Larangione, an artist, whose son Terrence ran the late-Spartaco Gallery in Old City. Larangione apparently only rents to artists — or artists with dogs, maybe. There were lots of dogs and a few cats. And in one experiment in group living on the 5th floor, two apartments share a kitchen. (image is Steven Earl Weber‘s “Contrary Notions” a found wood and cast ceramic sculpture.)


Jon Reeb was my contact although I had met two of the artists, John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger, previously at Arcadia’s last Works on Paper show in which they had a plaster on paper work that I loved and that won a prize in that show. Reeb emailed me at the Weekly to announce their one-day event and it’s through his persistence that I got over there. (image is Reeb‘s “Symbiont” a 7-minute video with surveillance camera footage interwoven with more personal material. I loved the sculptural housing for the piece, an old circuit box.)


Cook mentioned that they had participated in POST’s open studios in the past. But the way the group got to be a group was that Weber was asked to organize a group show for the Plough and the Stars where he had previously had a solo exhibit. He put together the group show for P&S and that was the beginning of the group. BTW, lots of people stopped by 1801 all day and into the wee hours of the night the day of their event which ended with a cookout, a great-sounding video projection through a window, and a jam session with Bardo Pond members. The artists will be doing another one-day show/open studios event in October. (image is Reeb‘s “Fell” a welded steel sculpture with glass and a lighting element. Reeb, who loves to weld, has perhaps the widest range of art-making going on within his body of work. That’s pure exploration going on I imagine.)


I’m always curious how people wind up in Philadelphia and these artists are like many they gravitated here for school (UArts, PAFA, Tyler) or are from the region. Reeb’s from Buffalo, NY and came here for media arts at UArts; Carrie Cook is from Lancaster, PA and studied at Tyler. (She had a show at Afif Gallery recently she told me.) Steven Earl Weber’s from Ohio where he studied glass art. (He’s worked at the glass studio, Hot Soup, and elsewhere). Michael McJilton is from Maryland and studied in Lancaster then came to Philadelphia to launch his career. (image is Carrie Cook‘s graphite on graphite drawing on panel, “New Jersey/Florida.” The image appears Halloweenish or devilish — its ambiance is spooky and it perfectly catches nighttime’s strangeness.)


John Gibbons and Isobel Sollengerger are both from the area and met at PAFA. The couple has been collaborating on music for a long time (they’re both members of the electro-Zen–art band, Bardo Pond) and recently started collaborating on art. The Flemings, Ellen and Sonny, are from the area. Ellen went to Uarts and Sonny is recently back from five years in salt Lake City where he founded and built “Proving Grounds” the biggest skate park in that part of the country. Boutwell is from Erie and after spending time in the Navy is now studying art at PAFA. (image is floor with critters, mushrooms and a “saucer,” part of Gibbons and Sollenberger‘s untitled installation — which also includes a plaster on paper “cloud” on the wall — see next image)


The group exhibit’s laid out in the building’s first floor and the work spans the range of art and crafts, from decorative glass panels and metal and ceramic sculptures to collage, figure paintings, furniture, clothing, video and abstract works. Having just written about the CFEVA show, which has an equal range of works, I have to say this show is of comparable quality but higher in energy and of course edgier, as you’d expect, in what is a beautiful but raw space (and not an office lobby). I’ll venture here that office lobbies could use a little bit more of this edgier stuff.


The real fun of this building is the open studios where the artists live and work. It’s here I saw the amazing level to which the artists are committed to working. The spaces I saw were almost equal part studio and living space and the interweaving of art and life is complete. Without further ado, I’ll run some pictures here with a bit of commentary. Mostly I hope you’ll keep these artists on your radar and watch out for their next open studio event. (image is Sonny Fleming‘s “Pillow Talk” a loveseat with tvs all running static embedded in it.)


Here is Ellen Fleming‘s “3” which I thought was a glass and metal painting. It was both sweet and poke-y, so a little forbidding.


Michael McJilton‘s got a body of work involving soldiers and war. I find that very compelling material for a young artist to make. Here are some drawings that look like recruiting posters installed like on a bulletin board.

Jon Schoff‘s “Flesh Pod” painting is like a bad boy version of that Sidney Goodman painting of a nude — body truncated in a violent kind of way draped over a wooden table. Very Academy…but not.


Naomi Littell makes hats and clothing. Her works (pictured here hanging in the apparel corner of the exhibit) have the fun, party-time ambiance and flash of Mardi Gras (if not the purple, green and gold colors).

I somehow failed to get a shot of Brian Boutwell‘s painting — all black and covering many different colors underneath. Reeb told me he’s sending one and I’ll run it with the next post.