Almost real at Seraphin

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To have a show featuring Philadelphia realists that rises above genre is what Seraphin Gallery dared to aim for, and partially they succeeded. The “New Philadelpha Realists” includes work from Edgar Jerins and Jas Knight that seems fresh and interesting, all be it directly in the academy tradition (image, Jerins’ “Adam Bomb, Claire Darian & Blaze,” 60″ x 103″).
Knight’s two portraits, one of a woman dressed with a hat, and one of a young girl, bring to the canvas clear-eyed images of people and how they project themselves (plus the artist sneaks in a little commentary of his own on the side). And then there’s the plus of having African Americans as the subject matter of a painting style that has rarely included them, except in commissioned portraits (“Woman with Headdress, 12″ x 16”, oil on canvas).

The title of “Woman with Headdress” gives Knight away as more than a mere observer. After all, the headdress looks more or less like a pillbox hat that, with the Chanel-style jacket, calls up Jackie O. The painting also calls up memories of Matisse. The subject’s hair is as much the issue as the hat. There’s a funny tension between propriety and sexual allure that makes this painting interesting.

His other painting, “The Child,” which is 78″ high (i.e. an enormous painting), shows a young girl in a beautiful, ballerina-style dress, its tulle layers depicted with delicate changeant pinks and blues. Here it’s the child’s sore, rubbed toes that startle and raise questions about the lies of self-image and beauty (left, “The Child,” 78″ x 60″, oil on canvas).

Neither of these paintings shows someone who is completely comfortable, yet he allows them each their projected persona. As portraits, they seem just right. As art, the also seem just right–a mix of great technique and beauty with some concept to boot.

The two enormous charcoal drawings from Edgar Jerins, who won a 2004 Pollock-Krasner award and recently got a favorable notice from Ken Johnson in the New York Times (see post) feature groups of people who seem completely self-absorbed, symbolized in one by a pregnant woman, hand on belly, thinking internal thoughts and in the other by a girl playing with an electronic device (below, “The Artist’s Family (We Have to Move), 60″ x 96”).

The gritty social milieu and narratives coupled with the ambitious size and classic multiple figures a la “Raft of the Medusa”/”Liberty Guiding the People” grandeur of classic multiple figures make for images I want to see more of. I love the handling of light and dark, and the sheer loopiness of creating a drawing of this scale in charcoal.

The people seem real, the milieus real, the choices of subjects right on target for who we are and what we’re really like–we’re all about ourselves.

Others in the show are Morgan Craig with architectural spaces devoid of people and Catherine Prescott, with portraits and a nude.

In the back at Seraphin, some gouache landscapes by Elizabeth Wilson squeeze lots of sky and land into 4.5 x 4.5 inches, suggesting snapshots of my trip abroad–classic Philadelphia school paintings.

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