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Landscapes of the mind at Little Berlin


The rainbows were finer than my camera could capture

The rainbow was sudden. We were racing up to Little Berlin Friday along I-95 when Murray and I spotted it. We were so excited we missed our exit and almost drove off the road.

The first thing that struck me was how yellow it was at the base, shimmering and golden. I’d never seen that effect before, but I bet the legend about the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow comes from that.

The second thing the struck me was I wasn’t going to be able to get my camera out fast enough. The more I worried, the more I fumbled.

Inspiration and rainbow

I’m not sure just how long it took me to notice it was a double rainbow, although the big money was clearly on number one, which was vivid and spectacular, with the sky a different color on either side of it. The second was a mousy reflection.

One of those Temple University red billboards loomed in the distance. “Inspiration” with the Temple “T”. I could barely contain myself. I barely caught it with the rainbow in the same picture–being in a speeding-along car, being me, and being slow on the camera trigger.

Kate Abercrombie
Kate Abercrombie’s riot of flowers goes under the sea in this image, suggesting plenitude and the invisible world beneath the surface.

Appropriately enough, the exhibit at Little Berlin, turned out to have its own sort of rainbows and landscapes. BECKY + SARA + KATE + BEATJAMS is a three-girl art show, plus music from an all-girl garage band (Murray and I beat the band and ran out to dinner before they showed up).

The artists are Becky Suss, Sarah Gamble and Kate Abercrombie. My main point about all this work is that these are all landscapes–of a sort–i.e. not landscapes at all. They are landscapes of the mind.

Abercrombie’s cascades of ecstatic flowers in her paintings and drawings are effusive, and the geometrical straight lines and circles at once reinforce and undermine the notion of landscape–adding a little fillip of magic powers and signs. These works are almost decorative and design-y in their intent. They also seem to have moved away some from Indian miniatures and toward Chinese influences.

Sarah Gamble's glowing igloo, home sweet home, is equipped with computers!!!
Sarah Gamble’s glowing igloo, home sweet home, is equipped with computers!!!

At the other extreme, Sarah Gamble–the ultimate rainbow painter of all time–continues her visions of romantic survivalism. There’s a sweetness to this work that pictures a dark world with details to admire–a sort of grown-up version of the little girl drawing of the house with the three tulips, the tree and the bird. But Gamble’s world includes the invisible powers of electricity and wi-fi keeping us warm in the barrens of nature.

Suss in this small exhibit, with a series of modest-scale paintings on paper, depicts a very personal take on imaginary headlands that suggest ascent. I especially liked the shapes and the way the land meets and becomes one with the sky. The painting is uneven and pastel, but the ideas and shapes are there, providing some tooth).

Becky Suss
by Becky Suss’ paintings climb to join earth and sky.

For this young generation of artists, this is what has happened to landscape painting. I guess we humans have become unwilling to face that which is about to be lost. Besides, landscape painting, at its best, has always been political and full of cultural information. Truth be said, painting a pretty landscape has never done the job, and the notion of young Victorian ladies learning to paint realistic landscapes has never really been about art. These young women, however, are not painting in that Victorian tradition. Suss and Gamble are closer to April Gornick and Peter Doig, while Abercrombie is working closer to Asian traditions.

Roman Blazic
I met Roman Blazic for the first time, at Little Berlin

On another note, I was happy to meet Roman Blazic for the first time at this exhibit. Blazic has contributed some words and photos to artblog on the Fishtown/Kensington scene.

The exhibit goes until June 13.

little berlin
1801 N. Howard St., Philadelphia
Saturdays 12-5pm
or by appointment