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Joyful space – Anne Canfield and Gary Petersen at MAC

Roberta goes out to Mt. Airy where she finds joyful works at a small gallery run by two artists. - Artblog editor


The alternative gallery Mt. Airy Contemporary (MAC) is a labor of love, conceived and managed by the artist-couple Colin and Andrea Keefe. Located in a charming 2-story carriage house behind the Keefe’s house on a quiet residential street, the space was light-filled and welcoming on a recent Sunday afternoon when I visited to see the two person exhibit of works by Anne Canfield and Gary Petersen.

opening at Mt. Airy Contemporay
Opening at Mt. Airy Contemporary earlier this month – Works by Anne Canfield and Gary Petersen

The Keefes relocated to Philadelphia from Williamsburg, Brooklyn and opened the gallery in 2009. They started out with an ambitious program of six exhibits per year but have settled into a comfortable three exhibits per year. It’s a number they can handle — and maintain their full time jobs (he is an IT guy and she is an art teacher at Central High), raise their son, Sam, and keep up their own studio practices. (The 2-story carriage house has studio space for Andi and Colin upstairs. )

The Colorful Exhibit by Anne Canfield and Gary Petersen

Anne Canfield oil and graphite on panel
Anne Canfield, Green Wall (2015), Graphite and oil on panel, 12” x 12” – on view at Mt. Airy Contemporary

I asked the duo about the current exhibition, which includes the Philadelphia artist, Anne Canfield and the Brooklyn artist, Gary Petersen. They first were attracted to Canfield’s work when they saw it in a show at Pagus Gallery, said Colin. Petersen is an artist they know from New York. He and Colin had studio spaces in the same building in Brooklyn.

As they thought about it more they realized that Anne and Gary shared similar palettes – pinks and whites – happy high key colors. And while one is representational (Canfield) and the other abstract (Petersen) they both are interested in space, flattening it, denying it, playing tricks with it. It felt like a good pairing. And it is.

Petersen’s playful windows and Canfield’s uncanny urban spaces

Gary Petersen acrylic painting
Gary Petersen, Far Away (2014), Acrylic on canvas, 20” x 16” – on view at Mt. Airy Contemporary

Petersen’s works are large acrylics made using tape to mask areas as they build up. Canfield’s works are small oils with graphite overlay, influenced by Indian miniature painting. What’s compelling in both artists’ works is that they treat space like a puzzle, with Canfield’s more static and pre-determined and Petersen’s more fluid.

 Anne Canfield, Keep Clear (2015), Graphite and oil on panel, 12” x 12” - on view at Mt. Airy Contemporary
Anne Canfield, Keep Clear (2015), Graphite and oil on panel, 12” x 12” – on view at Mt. Airy Contemporary

The space in Canfield’s works is uncanny — impossible for being too perfect. The bench and lamp painted on what looks like an exterior wall at the end of an alley in “Keep Clear” seems dropped in so perfectly that it is rooted in the scene, grounded by the many rectangles that surround and box it in. The question for a viewer who likes puzzles is how did she do that, create that perfect odd, locked-in space? These are not somber works, but they are whimsical. Images that serve up oddities in the urban scene, they’re pictures that make you smile.

Petersen’s works, too, will make you smile. Their exuberance is infectious. Their affect is comic and cartoony. The window-like structures are playful and suggest flux and motion to Canfield’s stasis. Musical and jazz-like, the thin black lines in “Far Away” crisscross and cascade downward like the chutes in a Rube Goldberg machine. And the bright, Lily-Pulitzer-colored rectangles that crowd in to observe the motion and action are like kids looking in the pet store window (or maybe like puppies looking out). Either way, Petersen suggests that the life is not static, the chutes are moveable and the puzzle could be configured another way tomorrow.

I love this show. It’s not just the beauty of the colors and the reverberant dialog between the two artists about shapes and space and play. It’s that together these artists’ works create a joy that’s an outlier in today’s art-landscape, and that’s amazing, and good on the eye and good for the spirit.

Upstairs at MAC

I used my visit to MAC as a time to check in on the Keefe’s studios. Both have work in progress and both have showed — together and separately — in the region.  Most recently, Colin showed at his gallery, Robert Henry Contemporary, in Brooklyn.  Andi showed last winter at Grizzly Grizzly.

Colin Keefe work on paper
“All this happened, more or less”, 2015, Ink on Paper

Colin is working on more iterations of his map-like drawings.  His Winter 2016 show at Robert Henry Contemporary  featured, in addition to large and very large drawings, an edition of a 3D printed object, “Hex Node 1,”  made from a scan of a drawing. The small “chips off the old block” are terrific to look at and hold in your hand. Colin mentioned that Shapeways, the online 3D printer, works with anybody to create a 3D object. Get going, everyone!

Andrea Keefe wall installation at Grizzly Grizzly
Andrea Keefe, “Meaningful Platitudes and Other Oxymorons”, 2015 – Acrylic paint, ink and paper mounted on wall, Dimensions variable. Installed at Grizzly Grizzly

Andi Keefe’s studio is filled with her colorful biomorphic/geometric accumulations in paint, ink and paper. A group of these were shown at Grizzly Grizzly in 2015. They look great in their dense riverine flow down (or is it up?) the wall.

To answer a question of whether the two had ever collaborated on making art, they showed me some small panels they had worked on together in the last year. Neither artist seemed convinced they were finished or good, which I would contest.

The beautiful small space in the art-outlier of Mt. Airy is a thriving part of the Philadelphia art scene.  Drawing from the neighborhood and adding to the neighborhood, the Keefe’s and their gallery have turned neighbors into collectors and artist-neighbors into supporters and friends who come to openings and stay to talk for hours.  It’s a successful model for an art gallery, weaving itself into the structure of a community.  Be sure to get out there and catch a show.  This one, which I very much recommend, is up to May 7.  The next exhibit features Mary Henderson, Drew Leshko, Kim Alsbrook, Jennifer Williams and John Slaby, says Colin. That’s a great lineup, says I.

Anne Canfield and Gary Petersen, to May 7, 2016. Mt. Airy Contemporary 25 West Mt. Airy Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19119, (267) 270-2787 Gallery Hours: Saturdays 1-4 PM and by appointment(Also open 4/29 6-8 PM for Mt. Airy Friday event)