Mixed doubles at Fjord – Dona Nelson, Kelly McRaven and Shanna Waddell

The impulse to paint runs strong and deep in the three artists on view at Fjord this month.  Dona Nelson, Tyler faculty and influential teacher for both McRaven and Waddell, is showing three works from the 1980s, which, if you know her abstract, process-fueled contemporary works, are a revelation.  These three  Nelson paintings provide figures, recognizable imagery and narrative to propel your mind along.  They are lushly and loosely painted and deal with something more metaphysical than just a real story or place or object.

“Knotted Tree” (1981), a small work in black and white, is arguably more about the negative space between the undulating knots of the knotted tree and another, straighter tree, nearby.  The mystery of what smoke, vine, magic is circling around a third tree, a stick in the background, is what compels my eye.  “Dakota Winter Winter” (1986), a grisaille work with map-like properties, reminds me of the vertiginous scenes by Diebenkorn of the Ocean Park area where the direction of your gaze is less about north and south than it is about up or down.

It’s fantastic to see this work from the 1980s here with contemporary works and think about the connections, and about why people paint, why they continue to paint, how their works change and yet remain the same in some ways.

Shanna Waddell, who was asked by Fjord to organize a show and invited Nelson and McRaven’s participation, continues her investigation of the dark and light impulses of humankind.  Waddell, whose work sometimes focuses on the effects of cults, here shows two large works with fallen angels — Satan and Kurt Cobain.

Amidst the fiery, cosmic-evoking background of “Satan” (2013) Waddell positions a positively Madonna-like face, head looking down, wings raised but arms crossed in a posture of submission.

This is the good angel gone bad who may still be feeling regret for what he did.  In “Kurt Donald Cobain” (2013) the artist gave the central figure a sympathetic long-suffering, translucent face, whose otherworldliness conveys a sense of holiness.  Kurt is an angel in an energy field that positively vibrates with teen spirit.

Twins, doppelgangers, and the fluidity and fallibility of sight seem to be on Kelly McRaven’s mind.

She paints an old man, three times, twice in an all but identical way.  It’s just enough to drive you crazy if you are prone to compare this and that and pick out the the differences.  Of course the difference matters conceptually as much as visually so while you study and squint and try to make whether the trees in the background menace more on the left than they do on the right, or whether the old gentleman has the same identical outfit on in each painting, the better fun is to be had in your head, conjecturing why the artist is working this way, and why it delights you.

This is a terrific painting show, in a gallery whose serious, intense focus on painting is extraordinary in this day and age.  Be sure to get up there.  The gallery is open this Saturday noon-4pm.  Fjord is at 2419 Frankford Ave. Philadelphia PA Also open by appointment: