Technical bravura

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Aesthetics and materials and bravura technique so predominate the paintings of Antonio Puri on exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in his show “Outside the Mandala” that the ostensible subject matter becomes a mere excuse (image, “Spill 34,” 38 inches wide).

The work is layered with gestures small and large; with transparent, translucent, opaque, textured and flat areas; mixed media including beads; line and swaths of color and voids; spills and scraped areas. So rich is the technical range in the paintings that they become a kind of painting lesson for anyone who is paying attention.


They are quite beautiful (image, “Mukti 5,” 12 x 12 inches).

The subject matter that struggles to emerge seems to have something to do with the universe and perfection, with circles and curving horizons suggesting planets and and orbits and the depth of space. There’s also a geographic quality, a suggestion of maps and the earth.


The titles in some of these works also suggest references to Indian philosophy, with titles like Mini Dharma I and Sadhana 1, which brings me to the subject of matter of the wheel of life, and of course mandalas. It’s worth noting that Puri was born in India and went to school in the Himalayas, so he comes by this interest more honestly than most (image, “Sadhana 1 (Quadriptych),” 24 x 24 inches).

The scale of these works range from quite small and controlled to quite enormous. The large paintings on unstretched canvas are annual paintings that celebrate his son’s birthday, according to the exhibition essay by Miriam Seidel. One of these, “Fractured Reflections, is my favorite piece in the show. It has a large, gestural exuberance and wildness that, in the smaller paintings, is only expressed in miniature lacy drippings (image, “Fractured Reflections,” 119 x 123 inches).

While my personal taste calls for subject matter more closely connected to the times in which we live and to more personal and emotional work (although some of the time this does break through the professional cool), I have to concede admiration for the aesthetics and technical punch. And I know there are lots of you out there who would love this work for the very reasons I’m holding back (image, “Essence,” 72 x 72 inches).

The exhibit will remain up until Jan. 29.

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