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Weekly update – Phila Cheek


[Ed. note: I’m trying something new today. I’ll put the entire copy from my PW review in artblog. That way it’s me all over the place : – } …and for all ye who don’t like to hit the links, there’s no need, just read it here. And here, for more continuity and point of comparison, is Libby’s post on Philadelphia Cheek.]

“Philadelphia Cheek,” a group show at Seraphin Gallery, is breezy, colorful and energetic. In a season full of strong emerging artist shows, “Cheek” fits right in. Unlike the ambitious “VoxEnnial,” which presented a larger number of artists and a broader snapshot of what’s out there, “Cheek” is a more focused show with 10 artists. But it offers a view of the Philadelphia painting scene that’s especially exciting.
(image is “Cheek” in Seraphin. Note the bench, weary art lovers! and the excited group of young artists in the background who are talking about the exhibit and stayed for a good fifteen minutes while I was there.)
>Curated by two young artists–Seraphin staffer Todd Keyser and his friend Ben Will, both of whom have work in the show–“Cheek” is ambitious. The curators’ theme is to show young Philadelphia at its sassiest.
I’m not sure how you measure sassy in art (is Matthew Barney cheeky? Is Paul McCarthy?), so I can’t really weigh in on the cheek factor. But in an outing heavy with painting, (19 paintings in a show of 23 works) I loved the candy-colored graphic sensibility and playfulness influenced by toys, cell animation and cyber-aesthetics. Call it cyber-surrealism.

It’s a fantasy realm with oceans of deep space, the suggestion of movement and characters, and the hint of a continually changing landscape. These paintings-whether on the edge of abstract or with readable imagery-have the feel of a frozen screensaver.

Jason Loeb‘s “Untitled 1” evokes the impossible and the kitchen sink-from a stretched and howling Sylvester the Cat to abstract patterning and swooping cartoon speed lines. The work evokes a fun-house mirror: There’s nothing “real,” but it’s all familiar.
Ben Will‘s paintings, more abstract than Loeb’s, show acid-colored shapes in front of dark apocalyptic backgrounds. The shapes in two paintings are explosions, and they evoke the big bang of infinity reduced to a flat, stylish blob. They’re less scary than pretty.

Curator Keyser, whom I met in the gallery, told me Will’s explosions are based on packaging from G.I. Joe toys. They’re eye candy with an antiwar edge. (image is one of Will’s two G.I. Joe-related paintings, which I just loved.)

Keyser said the search for artists included advertising on Craigslist. That stroke of cyber-connecting — bypassing more traditional channels of appeal — is the cheekiest aspect of the show. Craigslist turned up one of the strongest painters in the show, Alana Bograd, whose delicious colors, iconic imagery (old men on bicycles) and dark hallucinatory sensibility is right out of The Triplets of Belleville. (image is one of Bograd’s untitled paintings)

There are no disappointments in the show. Works by Christopher Sweeney and Keyser, more representational but imbued with the same cyber-ghostliness as the rest, are great in the mix.


Vox Populi member Mauro Zamora fits perfectly with his dreamy, creamy, flat landscapes that conflate interior and exterior space. Zamora’s worlds, with their stick trees and spare suggestion of space, are quiet and deadpan. The longer you look, the more quirkiness you see. They’d be great animated. (image is one of Zamora’s two paintings in the show)

Hedwige Jacobs, represented with a painting and a 40-second animation loop “Growing Grass” (seen at Klein Art Gallery earlier this year), could be the leader of this movement. The PAFA grad has a delicate painting touch and a childlike humanist focus that would warm Oscar the Grouch’s heart.

Walter Benjamin Smith II, whose works I loved in “Junto” at Fleisher/Ollman, marries an outsider sensibility (words, religious imagery) to a Monty Pythonesque collage in his unique and compelling works. (image below is one of Smith’s two works in the show)
Outliers in this wonderland of a show are the photo documentary piece “Nice” by Ellie Brown and two mixed-media works on paper by Dee Nicholas, both seemingly rooted in the real world and suggestive of the quotidian. They’re good pieces but feel out of place.

Philadelphia collectors need to support young local talent. With works ranging from $50 (Jacobs’ animation) to $5,000 (Zamora’s 5-feet-by-5-feet painting Sacked), with most under $1,000, there’s every reason to buy from this extraordinary pool of talent.


Fabric designer Jessica Smith, who taught in the UArts craft program but now lives in Seattle, emailed to say she has a website. Smith has a great product line of fabric, tote bags, pillows and more. Her pop culture imagery is half critique and half love. “Cars Go Beep,” a repeat pattern of hand-drawn SUVs, suggests your worst nightmare on the Schuylkill — or a childlike mash note to the behemoth. Your choice. [Ed. note: I interviewed Smith for a story I did for Philadelphia Style Magazine last year but the mag doesn’t have a website I can link to. I recommend a visit to the designer’s website.]

>> This month the Galleries at Moore become project space for Elena Fajt and Jen Blazina, who’ll be in residence Tuesdays and Thursdays until Aug. 5 making art on site. Fajt’s project “Hairsense” begins with a four-day public event (now through Friday, July 8) called “Donate Your Hair” in which the public is invited to participate by bringing in hair — or having it snipped on site.

Blazina’s “Re-Collect” involves photo silkscreening of her family pictures and framing them in hand-altered frames. Blazina did a previous project at Spector in 2004.