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Weekly Update – Art Alliance shows


This week’s Weekly has my review of the Philadelphia Art Alliance summer shows. Below is the copy with some pictures.

Crafty Bastards

After a misstep a few years back when it got rid of a popular curator, Philadelphia Art Alliance rebounds strong with a mix of big and small shows.

PAA’s dedication to showing local emerging artists in its smaller spaces is especially welcome. Opportunities for solo exhibits by young Philly artists are few and far between. Most established galleries have full stables and rarely pick up new talent, and museums mostly eschew Philadelphia artists except when they’re a) dead, b) so established the decision is a no-brainer or c) sneaked into big group exhibits.

Kip Deeds, Alaska. watercolor, now at the Art Alliance.

This summer’s PAA shows have interesting narrative paintings and drawings by local artists Kip Deeds, Jessica Doyle and Emily Royer, and finely crafted metal-works by Chicago artist Kiff Slemmons (in the main gallery).

Like Doyle’s paintings and Royer’s drawings, Deeds’ works on paper are rooted in personal experience, which Deeds filters through the lens of history. His works—mostly watercolors, some with collage elements—weave past with present in ways that are poetic and elliptical. The posterlike works are visually held together by a scroll motif with words that allude to an event or story. Grim-faced abolitionist John Brown, for example, is featured in two black-and-white works that also show the Harper’s Ferry munitions depot. Deeds is a traveler, and his large boat Arkadelphia is a recurring motif that symbolizes the journey through life.

Jessica Doyle painting

While Deeds’ works look old-fashioned, Doyle and Royer are actually the more traditional artists, making landscapes with figures that refer obliquely to their lives as daughters, lovers and mothers. With their saturated colors and figurative style, Doyle’s paintings are like Joy Feasley’s (now at Locks Gallery)—but Doyle’s people aren’t playful, and her works are reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth (their self-consciousness and repeated self-referential subject matter).

Emily Royer, drawing.

Royer’s delicate pencil and paint works have graphic punch but disappoint by not revealing more of their psychological underpinnings.

Kiff Slemmons is a premier artist in her field of metals and sculptural jewelry. Incredibly, she’s a self-taught metalsmith.

Kiff Slemmons, wolf head made of metal and tiny mouse bones.
Kiff Slemmons, wolf head made of metal and tiny mouse bones.

Each work in the collaborative project began with a broken object sent to her by a colleague. Slemmons took the objects and adapted them for use in works of her own, paying homage to the original pieces. The objects are showcased in beautiful display boxes, and while the whole seems a bit too precious in its concept and execution, many will be wowed by the precise and virtuosic miniature sculptures. (I find it hard to think of them as jewelry.)

It’s great to see Philadelphia Art Alliance has found a solid niche and a way to support the local scene.

Kip Deeds, Jessica Doyle, Emily Royer and Kiff Slemmons, Through Aug. 23. $3-$5 (free through June). Philadelphia Art Alliance, 251 S. 18th St. 215.545.4302.