Weekly Update — Smokey spirituality at Rebekah Templeton

This week’s Weekly has my review of Dechemia at Rebekah Templeton.  Below’s the copy with pictures. More photos at my flickr.

You may not know Bardo Pond members John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger as visual artists, but the couple has been making and exhibiting their shamanistic and mandalalike poured plaster art for years.

Nuit, John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger, at Rebekah Templeton
Nuit, John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger, at Rebekah Templeton

Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art coaxed the reticent artists into a solo gallery show—their first in Philadelphia. And after about six weeks of installing—a process that included building two new gallery walls—the show is a pristine dream. Sensuous textures, smoky colors and ancient shapes evoke the mystical realms of deep space and the veil that separates daily life from unknown realms.

A show whose works call to mind Mark Rothko’s meditative paintings or James Turrell’s meditative projections, “Dechemia: Vessel Full” takes you to a zone where materials and metaphysics make magic.

Eight works dot the gallery walls like sacred objects from a shaman’s journey. While the works are mostly abstract, there are pieces that evoke the human figure and face. The entire show feels like a dialogue about the vulnerability of skin.

Nuit (or Nut the Egyptian goddess of Night), an almost ten-feet tall and 18″ wide sheet of colored plaster, is inset in the wall where it tapers gracefully at the top and ends in a needle-like tip. The piece is smoky, mysterious and provocative, and its color, texture and shape combine to create an illusion of a portal to another dimension. Quiet as a Stonehenge plinth, Nuit has a gravity to it that suggests it is a tool for reckoning the heavens.

John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger, Kepler
John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger, Kepler Window

Kepler Window, a grid of smoky grey squares that obscure all but the edges of what appears to be a glorious golden sunrise, takes its title from Nasa’s Kepler Mission which will explore other solar systems looking for life in deep space. As with all the artists’ works, Kepler Window has a delicacy of touch, here, with plaster drips and paper edges kissing tenderly in front of a static background.

The evocation of skin and touch and all things human played off against elements for which we are no match (light, space, time) is what these works are about.

John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger, Philadelphia Space
John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger, Philadelphia Space

Space Phila takes the idea sideways. A tall rope-coiled pot made of grey industrial foam stands in the window like an ancient artifact. Yet this pot is as space-age as Kepler’s telescopes with materials Nasa might even use in its missions. And what the vessel holds in the bottom is a mirror to reflect your human visage, a small bit of color in the vastness of industrial space.

“ Dechemia: Vessel Full ”: Through Oct. 24. Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art, 173 W. Girard Ave. 267.519.3884.