We dig Dig!

Roberta’s installation shot with Zoe Strauss’s photos, Jen Packer’s paintings, Nick Lenker’s Elephant in the Room and Kip Deeds’ scroll and small painting.

Jayson Scott Musson's prints
Roberta’s photo of Jayson Scott Musson’s posters, with JT Kirkland and Jen Packer (well, half of her) on the left.

Libby’s photo of Thom Lessner and Nick Lenker’s works

Libby's photo of Barbara Bullock and Candy Depew's works.
Libby’s photo of Barbara Bullock and Candy Depew’s works.

Thought we’d share some pictures of Dig, the show of Philly artists we curated at H and F Fine Arts in Mt. Rainier, MD. The show looks great — we think! And we hope you can get there! More pictures on both Libby’s flickr and Roberta’s flickr sites. And check out JT Kirkland’s slide show at his blog, Thinking about Art.

If you want to know more about the show the curator’s essay we wrote is at the bottom of this post. And here’s our previous post.

Oct. 20-Nov. 26, 2007


Curator’s Statement

We’ve watched the Philadelphia art scene shift its focus radically over the last 10 years, from your grandfather’s academic realism to art that pushes buttons, asks questions and delivers a concept. That shift in the type of artists and what they make was brought on by a number of factors — the infusion of foundation dollars for artists and exhibits, the transformation of local art schools into top-tier institutions, the affordability of Philly and the un-affordability of nearby New York and Washington, the investment in new galleries, new peppy leadership at arts institutions and more.

So, here’s what’s happening in Philadelphia. A spontaneous erruption of artists is searching–digging in their histories, our histories, their own backyards. They are rooting around in the newspaper, the Internet, tv, the movies and video games. Philly’s artists are making art with surprising observations about our culture and us. This art is a message in a bottle, shouting out its S.O.S. Regardless of the message there’s an urgency here.


Not only has Philadelphia caught up with practices around the globe but it’s now a leader with must-see exhibits touted in major national publications. That new Philadelphia art scene is what brought fellow art blogger and Assistant Gallery Director of H&F Fine Arts, JT Kirkland, to invite us to curate an exhibit. We are publishers of roberta fallon and libby rosof’s artblog, named one of the best art blogs in the country by Art in America–and we know our home town’s art. This show of eight artists reflects what we’re excited about and what’s going on in our city.

Two of the artists point up the cultural affinities of Philadelphia and New Orleans–bergs known for their music and their gorgeous parades of civic-sanctioned wildness. NOLA native Candy Depew makes Mardi Gras-influenced bling-bling ceramics, including memento mori skulls. Barbara Bullock’s cut-paper homages–produced in response to Hurricane Katrina–celebrate the great city and its jazz scene. Bessie Smith, John Coltrane and Sun Ra, to name a few, all called Philadelphia home. And after Katrina, Philadelphia’s government opened its doors to many New Orleans evacuees.

Decor is hot right now. It’s the perfect way to package the darkest of meanings. Both Bullock and Depew use full-bore decoration to find something to celebrate. The ambiguity of their decorative motifs also link them to other artists like Chicago soundsuit artist Nick Cave, painter Julie Heffernan and Philadelphia’s own stained-glass artist Judith Schaechter.

Whitney Biennial (2006) standout, Zoe Strauss, is a long-time chronicler of the Mummers and of Philadelphia’s underbelly, in her raw street photographs. When Katrina hit, Strauss, immediately responded and went down to the Gulf Coast to volunteer, bringing back some photos of the Gulf Coast underbelly. Strauss’ celebrated works of people and decaying architecture put her in the tradition of edgy portraiture with Diane Arbus and Alec Soth and the street photography tradition with Walker Evans and Joel Meyerowitz.

Setting Philadelphia’s tradition of academic realism on its head, Nick Lenker’s clay sculptures merge fantasy and family. His giant tschotschkes are autobiographical and talk to the tradition of Red Grooms and Robert Arneson as well as fairy tale illustration. The figurative work by young painter Jen Packer, winner of Tyler School of Art’s prestigious Edith Weil Hecht Memorial Award for painting at graduation in 2007, delves into life history and high drama. Packer’s paintings echo the spaces in early Diebenkorn and Lenker’s clay and print works echo the space of video games. Both Lenker and Packer take inspiration from psychological conflict.

Self-taught artist Thom Lessner’s figures, flat as the boards they are made of, stand in contrast to the precious and contrived celebrity-fueled works of Elizabeth Peyton and Karen Kilimnik. Lessner’s fan worship is robust, personal and, like Warhol’s art, on the edge of parody and self-parody. And like the Velvet Underground, Lessner’s pop band, Sweatheart, is also part of his art practice. Another artist who blends music, art and writing is Jayson Musson and his Plastic Little rap band. His poster art, which includes faux autobiographical rants about values–gender identity, race, inequality, sexual politics–are the epitome of political incorrectness, yet bare a core of truth. His public persona is like Duchamp‘s Rrose Selavy, slippery and shocking.

Kip Deeds finds parallels between his own life story and American history. His scroll is a river that he paddles, imagining scenes and places in history where he’s never been. He assigns history new meanings, not just for himself but for us all. Like outsider artist Howard Finster, Deeds is a poet in his art, using words on banners as his own historical markers in the landscape.
Above all, humanism is the spirit that ties all the work together, a love of people and an embrace of differences. This is just a piece of Philadelphia’s art ferment in 2007. Many of the artists in this show are winners of top awards for their work. Bullock (1997), Depew(2002), Strauss (2005) are winners of prestigious $50,000 Pew Fellowships; Deeds (2005) and Depew(1999-2000) are Fleisher Challenge Award winners. Emerging artists Lessner, Lenker, Packer and Musson demonstrate gravitas and promise for the future in their work. We admire all the artists in this show for how they translate their thoughts into art.
–Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, curators