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Energy of the Fluid Field


Rosanna Bruno, Dona Nelson
Rosanna Bruno (left) talking with Dona Nelson, organizer of Fluid Field. Behind them is Deborah Grant’s 70/30 split, oil, paper and relief on birch.

I was late to see Dona Nelson‘s curatorial outing, The Fluid Field, up at Tyler Gallery on the campus in Elkins Park. I caught the short-lived show (Oct 3-21) at the closing reception and boy was I glad I did. The show of Tyler grads — all women whose graduations from the art school ranged from 1963 (Louise Fishman) to 2007 (Tanaya Neal, Natasha Bowdoin) — was terrific!

Nelson, respected painter and Tyler faculty, poured her heart and her considerable energy and intelligence into the show and produced a great installation and a terrific catalog with an essay, full color images of each work and lots of biographical information and insights into each artist’s works. At the closing, Nelson, a bundle of ebullience, was handing out the free catalogs to everyone in sight. I happily took a couple. “Spread them around,” she said.

Rosanna Bruno with her painting
Rosanna Bruno posing with her painting Pick Up Sticks, 2007, oil on linen.

The show is a wonderful mix of more and less abstract works that together created a force field with considerable forward momentum. Painting looks pretty great here in its diverse shapes and sizes. The one thing not in evidence was paintings that look like they’re photographs, and that was great. Because even one tight and representational work might have broken up the party, which otherwise slipped along on the ur-stream of dreams and poetry.

I had fabulous chats with some of the artists including the funny and friendly Rosanna Bruno, whose name and work was so familiar to me. I couldn’t place where I’d seen Bruno’s work until I finally remembered that artblog pal Brent Burket had done a studio visit with Bruno and posted it on Heart as Arena. Bruno’s Pick Up Sticks is such a friendly painting, its rhythms and colors so engaging that even without the reference to the old-fashioned non-technological children’s game a viewer is immediately at ease. This is not a grandiose abstract painting but one, like those of Mary Heilman, that is sunny and a little self-involved but in a gracious way that invites you to partake of the fun.

Read Brent’s great post (link above) which has lots of pictures, and be sure to read all the comments under the post and watch for the poem!! I am green with envy. Won’t someone write a poem in artblog‘s comments, please?

Installation, Tanaya Neal, Louise Fishman
Tanaya Neal’s painting (left), Louise Fishman’s painting, right.

Nelson’s show sprawled over the two rooms of Tyler Gallery. The placement of works in the space, the curatorial choices, the scale choices and everything seemed perfect. Two small works, “Fixed Me There (2007) by Tanaya Neal and “What is it?” (1997) by Louise Fishman, made 10 years apart, created a great discussion about figure and ground and about the almost-always present landscape element in works of abstraction. Neal’s cartoon-like animal looks ready to launch out into Fishman’s grove of stick-like figures and knock them down like a hedge-hog bowling pin.

Anoka Faruqee, Freehand Asterisk painting, 2004
Anoka Faruqee, Freehand Asterisk painting, 2004

Anoka Faruqee‘s eye-popping asterisk painting — which I wanted 3-D glasses for, so dense and op was it — hung on a wall by itself. This work needed space and, with its peppy almost animated feel (turn your back on it and look again and the painting felt like its composition shifted) reminded me of kids playing jacks with the spiky metal pieces flying fast between hand and ground and hand again.

Fluid Field installation with Grant’s 70/30 Split (left), Liz Markus’s Making Love, Smoking Dope, Loading Guns, (next), Natasha Bowdoin’s Water Fable (center) and Rosanna Bruno’s Pick Up Sticks (right).

Liz Markus, coming off a recent show at ZieherSmith, showed a brushy piece in green brown and beige that I mistook for a pure abstraction. Wrong! Making Love, Smoking Dope, Loading Guns, 2007, fluid acrylic on canvas, is an abstracted impression of a Vietnam-era hippie soldier with an army helmet, RayBan sunglasses, a shaggy mustache and lots of long hair! I asked Markus if she was channeling Iraq in the work and she said “Yes!”

Natasha Bowdoin
‘s cut paper Water Fable resembles the cut paper work she showed at Voxxoxo recently. See my flickr for the Voxxoxo image.

The dense Water Fable, with intricate lacey cuts of paper and hand applied words and letters everywhere is labyrinthine, Victorian and gorgeous. Having just installed a delicate cut paper piece by Barbara Bullock at our show Dig in Mt. Ranier, MD, I know how DIFFICULT installation of this work can be. And while I’ve never witnessed the making of such a complicated work, I can only guess that it’s a very slow process, and involves a lot of addition and subtraction like painting.

Frank Bramblett, center, at opening
Tyler faculty and painter, Frank Bramblett, center. Tanaya Neal, right. I’m sorry I don’t remember the names for everyone else in the pic.

Rounding out the show are Rebecca Saylor Sack‘s volcanic Plateau, a modest-scale work by this artist also now having a Fleisher Challenge exhibit;Iva Gueorguevia‘s Vespers Pageant, a midnight blue Harry Potter-esque abstraction with ghostly jet streams that twist and turn in colors from hot red to icy white; Angela Dufresne‘s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Delusional Birthday Dinner Party for Big Daddy, also ghostly–and evocative of feverish outsider art; and Deborah Grant‘s smart collage works.

There’s been tons written about Dona Nelson’s abstract art. Here’s Roberta Smith on Nelson’s 2001 show at Cheim and Reid. And check out James Wagner’s appreciation of her September, 2006, show at Thomas Erben for an unabashed report by an art collector previously unfamiliar with Dona’s work who was blown away by what he saw.