Weekly Update – Watercolor, Some Animals and Apes

This week’s Weekly includes my review of Gallery Joe‘s watercolor show and a mini Q&A with Jody Sweitzer, whose audio-stuffed animal piece in Bird Park — which I told you about previously — made with Chris Vecchio, no longer exists, alas. Vandals torched it Saturday night. Also, in the listings, there’s my editor’s pick mini-review of “The Church of Hazel Motes without Hazel Motes” at Pageant. Here’s the link to the art page and here’s the link to the editor’s choice page.

Not So Sketchy

Watercolor used to be disdained as little more than sketchbook paint–easily portable and good for spur-of-the-moment visual note-taking in the studio or on a trip, but not for “serious” art. Today, though, watercolor is no longer a second-class citizen. Artists now use it for “finish” work as well as sketching. As you can see in Gallery Joe’s 12-artist survey show “Water Color: Current Views,” the medium fits nicely into delicate cartoon works as well as monumental abstractions.

If you’ve ever worked with watercolor you know it can be difficult and unforgiving. With oils or acrylics there’s always a second chance–add more paint and work back into it. But watercolor requires a deft hand and confidence. Once the mark is on the paper, there’s no covering it up. You either work with it or start over.



There are no mistakes on the walls here. Instead, virtuosity dominates, and there’s something for just about every taste. Cheol yu Kim‘s two works stand out. The delicate depictions of what appear to be underwater or microcosmic fantasy creatures posing for their close-ups are cartoonlike, but cartoons of exquisite delicacy and sensuality. Made by using a variety of templates combined this way and that, Delta Quadrant 2 (1) and (2) are works that would lose their veiled mystery if they were translated into another medium. Their extreme delicacy of line works beautifully in watercolor, creating intimate biomorphic complexities–breastlike appendages and orifices that produce undulating streams of vapor–that are a little like soft-core bio-porn.

(top two images are details of Kim’s works. My photos do not do the works justice. You need a nose to nose encounter to absorb the detail and elegant shapes and lines)


Photography has permeated the very fiber of the art world and seems to be in the driver’s seat, even here in watercolor land. The photo aesthetic shows, whether the artists are working from photos or not. In all cases they’re being aware of the photographed environment and translating it into paint.


Harrison Haynes‘ funny mountaintop scenes–there’s one with a pickup truck parked under a carport–seem fueled by the snapshot aesthetic. They’re breezy compositions translated into labor-intensive painted works.

(image is Haynes’ piece with the carport housing what looks like the family truck)


Charles Ritchie, who will have his first solo exhibit with Joe in February, produces believable works of photorealism. His Self Portrait With Night VIII is a darkling scene of the artist in his house, the whole picture reflected back through a mirror. It almost strains credulity that this virtuosic piece of realism was made from life and not from photographs.

(image is detail of Ritchie’s piece. Sorry about the glare in all these pictures.)


Brian Murphy‘s three lush and drippy self-portraits seem to quote from paintings and photos. They remind me of Jenny Saville’s lush self-portraits in oils. The focus on vulnerable pink flesh and the sketchy way the works drift off the page seemingly unfinished reminds you of watercolor’s days as sketches for a finished product.


(these are two works from Murphy’s self portrait series)

That the works–tacked to the wall and unframed–can be seen as finished pieces and not sketches speaks volumes about how far the modern eye has come in accepting what is art. And rightly so, for a frame doesn’t make the piece. The piece makes the piece.

Also fine in a solid show are Amy Cartwright‘s illustrational minis and Charlene Liu‘s delicate scenes of life, death and decay in the woods.

(image is detail of one of Liu’s delicate works, which have hidden unexpected objects in them)

“Water Color: Current Views” Through Nov. 19. Gallery Joe, 302 Arch St. 215.592.7752.


Popular Click

Conversation with Jody Sweitzer, whose piece Now That We Have Your Attention, made collaboratively with Chris Vecchio, is in Bird Park at Third and Arch streets. Vandals torched the piece Saturday night, and police are investigating. Meanwhile the charred remains will be on view through October.

The stuffed animals in your outdoor installation will look pretty raggedy by the end of the month. Will you replace them with new ones or let them deteriorate?
“My initial idea had subconsciously come from constantly seeing these overwhelming public memorials created for those who’ve been lost. I wanted give these furry creatures a voice in a place that doesn’t speak of death. Placing the animals outside and exposing them to the elements for a month allows me to observe how people react to seeing them transformed from cuddly and cute objects into decrepit shells of their former selves. Experiencing this reaction is what absolutely intrigues me.”


Your work sometimes uses a hidden camera to record people’s reactions. Is there a candid camera here in the park?
“I don’t have a camera installed here. Since the installation I’ve been periodically visiting the site to document the deterioration. I’ve gained more from my personal interactions with those passing by than I have from viewing any of my surveillance tapes.”

(image is photo I took of the piece Monday night when I was on my way to the Phil Collins lecture. I was alarmed when I took the shot and didn’t have an explanation for the damage. Up the block I actually ran into Sweitzer who explained it all to me. 9 pm Saturday night someone set the fire. The pizza parlor people called the fire department which broke through the gate and put the fire out. Sweitzer, remembering my question about surveillance cameras said something about wishing she’d had one there after all.”)

What’s next?
“I’m working on a video installation for the Benjamin Franklin celebration that’ll be installed at Nexus. This piece incorporates the 13 virtues that Franklin created for himself in an attempt to become a better human being.” (R.F.)

Editor’s Choice
Wasted Apes: “The Church of Hazel Motes Without Hazel Motes”
Through Nov. 11. Pageant Gallery, 607 Bainbridge St. 215.925.1535

“Motes” is an immersion exhibit by four artists–Sarah Gamble, Christopher George, Mikey Wild and Alphonse Calatrava-Ruisenor–collectively tagged “The Wasted Apes” (though Wild is an auxiliary member according to Pageant proprietor Daniel Dalseth). The ape motif and Hazel Motes refer to the show’s literary source, Flannery O’Connor‘s novel Wiseblood, which is a personal obsession of Dalseth’s. Quick book synopsis: a small town, a learned man, an idiot savant, an unkind act by an interloper, an imagined or real act of violence, flight and redemption.

(image above is detail of Ruisenor’s paper car which includes a hideaway camping space inside of it and below is Gamble’s hairy cloud in front of her wall painting of the sky.)


I’m not sure you’d get all or any of that from the objects in the show, but the whole–with outsider paintings by Wild, paintings influenced by the outsider aesthetic by George, a full-scale car made of paper by Ruisenor and a black hairy cloud with teeth by Gamble–adds up to what feels like a stage set for a play about a traveling circus sideshow. The Apes played experimental rock noise music at the opening while artist Kevin Reay wore the ape suit and was confrontational, Dalseth says. The Apes play again this weekend, and it’s highly recommended, with or without the music.
sweitzer, jody and chris vecchio
liu, charlene
gamble, sarah
ritchie, charles
haynes, harrison
kim, cheol yu
calatrava-ruisenor, alphonse