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Nicole Donnelly and Andrew Chalfen at Seeds Gallery


One of Philadelphia’s newest hyper-local, contemporary art spaces is the Seeds Gallery located in West Philly at 50th and Baltimore. Since opening its doors to the public over the summer of 2012, Seeds has been headed by director Mary Tasillo, who seeks to focus her curatorial efforts on the rich, local art emerging from every crevice in the city.

The current, inaugural-year ending exhibition is a two-person show highlighting work by Nicole Donnelly and Andrew Chalfen. Both artists have distinct, abstract styles, and in the gallery, their work delineates a healthy line of contrast through the center of the space; on one hand are the more grounded abstractions by Donnelly, on the other the wild, twisting patterns of Chalfen.

Repete Per Favore
Nicole Donnelly, “Repete Per Favore.”

Donnelly’s work is split into two conceptual groupings: larger, abstract paintings and small, notebook-sized pencil drawings. In the former, she explores form and color almost exclusively. Of the four paintings, three have fairly recognizable (if distorted) structural forms: boats, a bridge and some high-tension wire towers. The fourth is striking because it eludes most associations altogether. “Repete Per Favore” looks more like a pair of daddy-longlegs or arachnid-like creatures leaping their way across a blue field. The background is also remarkable in its desolation and lack of dimension.

Three At Dock
Nicole Donnelly, “Three At Dock.”

Other paintings display solid but slightly textured colors to define actual objects. Occasionally, spurts of liquid-looking patterns overtake these shapes, most notably in “Three At Dock”. Here, the tethered boats themselves appear more fluid than the water beneath them. These images are closely related to landscapes and illustrate scenes of lakes, rivers and fields, unlike their blue, spidery counterpart.

Our Deep Nationalism
Nicole Donnelly, “Our Deep Nationalism.”

Drawings Donnelly created while visiting Vermont offer some other angles on landscape rendering but diverge to explore social mores and language as well. Utilizing graphite, it is perhaps more natural to delve into words. Pencil has traditionally been a writing implement as much or more than it has been a sketching tool, and Donnelly’s stylized letters lie somewhere between these worlds. Silhouettes of boats brimming with telephone poles and land strung with barbed wire fences appear on her pages as do short narrative elements describing her findings on a morning walk: flags and a dead badger. These sheets act like a journal in many ways and her textual experiments like “No Thing Now But Lost” and “Our Deep Nationalism” offer observations without context and potentially dark introspective jaunts into ego and society.

Andrew Chalfen, “Peaking.”

Andrew Chalfen’s creations are immediately and obviously psychedelic in nature. Warped lines and rippling patterns flood his pages and offer a wild counterpoint to Donnelly’s solid colors and desaturated drawings. Chalfen began making much of this body of work when he injured his hand and had to take a break from guitar playing. They are themselves quite musical in composition, their repetitive motifs easily reflecting the free flow of a jazz tune.

Riverboat Dynamo
Andrew Chalfen, “Riverboat Dynamo.”

Chalfen also includes titles such as “Soap Bubbles” and “Fluid Dynamics” to offer possible associations to his otherwise non-objective explosions of color. Many of them, he says, are inspired by aerial views of farmland, countryside and even the grid-like blocks of inner city locales. Much of his artwork is organic and seemingly bacterial in nature, but occasionally the artist slices his picture plane with hard, straight lines, perfect circles and more structured shapes.

One thing all of Chalfen’s work shares is its process. Every piece displayed here shows an evolution in form that has spread out – much like urban sprawl or microscopic growth – and finding the initial starting point is impossible. In that sense, they are entertaining to traverse with the eyes but perhaps not so easy to escape once one is lost within their maddening mazes; the easiest exit point seems to be visual overstimulation and a protesting brain.

Seeds Gallery’s mission to handpick local artists with vision is expressed splendidly in its year ending 2012 show. The work of Nicole Donnelly and Andrew Chalfen will hang in the space through January 26, 2013.