Speed, Still, Sway — works by Mark Price, Joe Manuse, and Justin Bursk at Mount Airy Contemporary

[Michael finds the links between works by three young artists at a pocket gallery owned by a husband-and-wife artist team. — the Artblog editors]

Mount Airy Contemporary (MAC) is a small, beautiful gallery in a former carriage house in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, run by artists Colin Keefe and Andrea Wohl Keefe. The exhibition, Speed, Still, Sway features the work of Mark Price, Joe Manuse, and Justin Bursk, whose works neatly embody the Speed, Still, and Sway of the show’s title.

Abstract collages and absorbing acrylics

Mark Price, “Falsified Experience,” 11″ x 13,” screen print collage.

Mark Price’s eight abstract paper collages are incredibly smooth patchworks of intersecting planes and perfect and imperfect geometric figures–rhomboids, trapezoids, and polygons within polygons–sometimes embedded within an overriding, predominating geometric form that hovers over the field like a transparent Cubist dirigible. The collages, which range in size from 11” x 13” to 25” x 24”, are presented in sharp white frames, and are composed in brilliant primary tones that originate from screen prints created by the artist. Every one of them is multileveled and stunning.

Price–a graphic designer and member of Space 1026–is the “speed” in the title of the exhibition–I think reflecting the urbanity and complexity of his work. A similar body of his work (together with Joseph Ophinsky’s) was presented in an exhibition at the Frameworks Gallery in May of 2014, and reviewed by Kelly Steinlage for the artblog. I did not feel at all, as others have, that the current rendition of Price’s work is “jittery” or unsettling, although some of his earlier work is more experiential, psychological, and sometimes perhaps chaotic. (See, for example, Amze Emmons’ review of Price’s 2012 exhibition, Hyper 20XX, at Kesting/Ray, in Printeresting). Indeed, each piece in this exhibition is remarkably coherent, evocative and engaging.

Joe Manuse, “Youngstown Paintings No. 1” (2014), 36″ x 48,” acrylic on panel.

Joe Manuse is a Buddhist and bar owner from upstate New York, and the “still” in the show. Three of his easel-sized abstract paintings are on display, each acrylic on panel. Absorbing the work, I felt somehow as if I was observing the essence of the natural world; almost as if Manuse had taken the purity and concentration of Abstract Expressionism and tempered the effect with the tones of a Seurat. I found the paintings captivating.

Bridging two worlds

Justin Bursk, “Through the Night” (2014), 30″ x 40,” pencil, ink, tempera.

Justin Bursk is a local artist and teacher. His website describes his work as explorations on “themes of play, wonder, and the sublime.” And thus, he is the “sway” in the title. There is one fabulous piece of his in the show, “Through the Night,” which captures Bursk’s fascination with boats and mountains, including the brilliant use of oculi that transport the viewer from the mountains to the sea. The exhibition also includes two of his cotton sculptures of sails, wonderfully titled “Our Last Day” and “At Least You Dead Sleep Quietly” (the latter presented upside-down), which utilize the same inventive oculi to envision the sea, although their appeal is undermined by their obviously unintentional, but unfortunate association to the conical hoods of the Ku Klux Klan.

The exhibit also includes a table full of Bursk’s interactive mixed-media creations, most of them wind-up toys elaborated upon with pipe cleaners, cotton, green plasticine, and the like, and molded to become small objects including boats and trees. I found these to be the least compelling works in the exhibition, and somewhat out of place in the context of the exhibition as a whole.

Price’s conceptual abstractions and Manuse’s lyrical abstractions complement each other because, from starkly different perspectives, they both peer beneath the surface of life. Manuse examines the natural world; Price the civilized and urban world. Though Burck’s “Through the Night” wanders out of the realm of the abstract into the narrative, in a sense, the piece touches both of those worlds.

Finally, a word about MAC. The gallery sits in a residential neighborhood–in fact, a diverse residential neighborhood–which raises a hope that it will touch the lives of people who otherwise might not have a chance to experience and to enjoy contemporary art. The current exhibition, Speed, Still, Sway, provides an excellent opportunity to accomplish that.

Speed, Still, Sway is on display at Mount Airy Contemporary from June 26 – 27, 2015 by appointment.