Around Philadelphia: Paintings and Performance

John Zurier Night 23 (2007), distemper on linen, 30" x 20"
John Zurier Night 23 (2007), distemper on linen, 30″ x 20″

There’s fast painting and there’s slow painting; and some of what looks fast is actually the product of long labor. Two exhibitions in Old City show slow painting which reveals its labor, and both require slow looking.

Just as the eyes must light-adjust to see anything in the dark, they must light-adjust to John Zurier’s series of Night Paintings at Larry Becker Contemporary Art (through April 19). A dozen 30″ x 20 “ paintings, all in distemper on un-primed linen, at first yield nothing but inky blueness. Some have green borders, usually along the left side, but it takes longer to see that all the paintings reveal the history of their making: horizontal strokes cross the weft of vertical ones, with the occasional break into less regular brushwork. And bits of the dark linen show, as well as other colors which peek through here and there.

John Zurier Night 26 (2007), distemper on linen, 30″ x 20″


Zurier mixes his own paints, using a water-based glue medium (known as distemper, or Tuschlein) that was most-commonly employed in the 15th century and earlier, often for uses where wood panels would have been too heavy (such as processional banners). The glue can derive from boiling animal bones or parchment, or from fish bones. Distemper paintings have no ground, and are not varnished – yielding a chalky surface. Zurier chose it because he likes the qualities of colors it yields.

While Zurrier was thinking of the night sky, the paintings remind me of looking into the ocean at night, where waves create patterns within the blackness and occasional flashes of light reveal a fish The metaphor of nature’s infinity is the same, and the paintings capture some of the serenity that comes from contemplation of our very small place within it.

The entire exhibition has been selected by Okwui Enwezor to be shown at the 7th Gwangju (Korea) Biennale in September.


Installation of Kiki Gaffney’s work at Pentimenti Gallery

Kiki Gaffney’s largest work in her current exhibition at Pentimenti Gallery, Studio Wall (acrylic, oil and graphite on mylar, 47″ x 89″) assumes the form of a collage, only rather than incorporating found materials she painted detailed imagery that suggests she has incorporated pieces of printed fabric in the compositions. She teases us with her skill as a draughtsman, rendering different materials that appear to be pasted on a wall covered with random dribbles and bits of graffiti.

Hers is a thoroughly modern sensibility, with fragments of figuration within essentially abstract works. In a number of her paintings she appears to have learned about constructing a surface from Jasper Johns’ later work; she may also learned something about luscious paint handling from Johns.


a detail of Chere Krakovsky The Neighbors Next Door, a week-long performance at International House

I like talking to taxi drivers and occasionally to my neighbors on planes. Those situations create a finite intimacy; I will never see those people again, so I needn’t worry about making an impression or where the conversation might lead. New York artist, Chere Krakovsky has created a similar intimacy with The Neighbors Next Door, a week-long performance at International House (10 am-11 pm, Monday, March 17 through Sunday, March 23). She’s moved the contents of her Lower East Side kitchen to a public space, just beyond the lobby at International House, and she’s happy to entertain you. The piece isn’t scripted; whatever happens happens. Krakovsky only promised to be in residence the entire week.

Some of Chere Krakovsky’s visitors during The Neighbors Next Door at International House

Krakovsky is acting out her fantasy of an open-door policy: drop-ins are always welcome to sit at her kitchen table, take tea or cookies or chocolate or, if you are lucky, a meal. I spent two hours; we talked about Philadelphia and New York, how she had come to performance art, the Fringe and Live Arts Festival, who she was having to dinner that night. By the end we were such good friends that I’d shown her a picture of my cat.

After the guests have left Chere Krakovsky’s performance piece,
The Neighbors Next Door

Roberta plans to drop in tomorrow and will report on it, so I’ll leave now, but the invitation is in your hands.