Nothing but blue skies at Cerulean Arts’ group exhibition
Artblog Managing Editor, Wit Lopez, took a trip to the Francisville section of North Philadelphia to see the latest group exhibition at Cerulean Arts Studio & Gallery. If you haven’t been to this show at Cerulean, what are you waiting for? The wonderful show closes on January 12, 2020, so there’s still plenty of time to witness it. Cerulean is located at 1355 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19123.

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As my Lyft pulled up on the street around the south side of The Divine Lorraine, the driver asked, “Is this it?” I looked out of the window and couldn’t confirm because I had never been to the gallery before, but I got out anyway. I saw a building about the size of a standard Philly rowhouse with white walls adorned with art, so I figured that was Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio, as the label in the front door suggested. The first thing I noticed about the space was that the lighting felt perfect: I wasn’t straining my eyes to see in a dark space and it wasn’t harsh and blinding against the white of the walls. The art work on the walls were relatively small and sparse, and since it was the opening reception for a group exhibition, I wondered, Is there something I’m missing? Where’s the group?

I approached the gallery manager’s station to ask her if there was more art and in walking closer, I realized the person chatting behind her was my friend and mentor, Alice Lesnick, who is currently one of Cerulean’s associate members. I began to ask if this was the group exhibition, to which Alice responded by opening a door in the space, and much like the unfolding of Narnia through the wardrobe, there we were, standing in a gorgeous maze-like space, surrounded by more than 115 pieces of artwork by the gallery’s membership. Cerulean’s website explains how the original exhibiting space when they first opened in 2006 was the quaint gallery I first entered, but three years later, they were able to acquire the building next to them when their neighbor put it up for sale. They began transforming the additional space in 2017, and held their first show in the expansion in July of that year.

Beautifully complementing the artwork on the walls, one can’t help but notice the color on the ceilings in the space. Not turquoise, not lapis, but actual cerulean paint in a grid of large squares bordered by white. Just like the lighting in the smaller space, the lighting in the larger gallery is perfect. The space feels serene and despite the amount of paintings on the walls, it never feels overwhelming. Tina Rocha, along with her husband Michael Kowbuz, is the owner, but she is also an architect, which is evident by the obvious meticulous care that has gone into the floor plan and lighting design of the overall structure. I’ve been to many galleries in Philadelphia and other cities, but the sense of serenity I felt through the lighting, the ceiling color, and even something as seemingly simple as the evenness of the floor–is unmatched.

Alice Lesnick, "It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature," 40” x 40”, included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio's group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.
Alice Lesnick, “It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature,” 40” x 40”, included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio’s group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.

Alice showed me to the cubicle of the gallery where her work was displayed on two walls opposite, yet in lively conversation with, the work of local artist Alan Lankin. In her new body of breathtaking acrylic work, Alice explores vibrant themes in her “Pinball/Juggling series” that interrogate power, how people move, and envision the circus as a space for daring and counterculture. Alice’s pieces draw me in, the movement of the colors on the canvas, reminiscent of a carefully choreographed dance. Between the canvases, the colors repeat–red, turquoise, white, yellow, black, gray, orange–and although separate, they can be likened to the squares of an unfinished quilt; they are all portions of a much larger story. Lesnick’s skillfully executed conceptual work delivers poignant messages through title and form, like her 40” x 40” piece “It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature.”

Alice Lesnick, "A walk in the moonlight," included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio's group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.
Alice Lesnick, “A Walk in the Moonlight,” included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio’s group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.

When I looked across from Alice’s work, I was entranced by one of Alan Lankin’s pieces entitled “Frameworks (19/17).” The 11.25” x 7.5” piece in gouache and artist crayon evoked a feeling of nostalgia, as if I were looking at a vintage photograph of tenement buildings in New York City. The lines made me think of apartment windows lined by fire escapes, which paired perfectly, in my mind, with his 30” x 24” piece “City Structures (Night)” on the next wall.

Alan Lankin, “Frameworks (19/17)," 11.25” x 7.5,” included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio's group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.
Alan Lankin, “Frameworks (19/17),” 11.25” x 7.5,” included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio’s group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.

Moving between the different sections of the gallery, I was stopped in my tracks by the stoneware work of Joanne Karpowitz. At first glance, you wouldn’t know it was stoneware because it is so true to life. The pedestal containing her three pieces–“Small Gourd,” “Medium Gourd,” and “Large Gourd”–left my jaw slack. I love that Joanne chose to make gourds with long necks and pointed bulbs at the top because it gives the feeling of swans communing with each other. Karpowitz not only captures the form of gourds, but the exact coloring and texture of gourds as well. Truly masterful stoneware.

Joanne Karpowitz, “Small Gourd,” “Medium Gourd,” and “Large Gourd,” included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio's group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.
Joanne Karpowitz, “Small Gourd,” “Medium Gourd,” and “Large Gourd,” included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio’s group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.

While preparing to leave the show, I encountered painter Marguerite Heilman, whose 12 oil on panel landscape works were just as calming and serene as the Cerulean gallery itself. As my eyes locked onto one of the smaller plein air pieces, “Last Night — Mt. Desert,” it plunged me deep into a personal memory of sitting on a dock on a lake in Maine one summer afternoon when I was 19. Heilman shared how her work is influenced by the works of Jane Wilson, and how Wilson reduces the information of her work, so that viewers get the feeling of light in nature without the image being a particular place. Considering that Heilman’s work evoked a very specific memory for me, I can say that her work most definitely takes after Jane Wilson’s style and also shares enough with the viewer to feel light in nature without the markers of a specific locale, making it possible for the viewer to place themselves into the work as well. Much like Wilson and Rothko, Heilman explained that she layers warm and cool colors three to four times, which creates a depth and sense of movement to the work that mirrors the way light reflects off of gas in nature.

Marguerite Heilman, "Last Night -- Mt. Desert,” 6” x 12”, included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio's group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.
Marguerite Heilman, “Last Night — Mt. Desert,” 6” x 12”, included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio’s group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.

While this review only highlights the works of four of the 11 associate members in the group exhibition at Cerulean Arts Studio & Gallery, that does not mean that the other seven artists are not worthy of high praise as well! It just means that I’m leaving some for you, the reader, to go explore for yourself. From the lovely encaustic works of Dora Ficher to the delicate brilliance of Anne Marble’s cast paper pieces, this show–and the architecture of the gallery–is not to be missed.

“Cerulean Arts Collective Associate Members Exhibitions,” December 11, 2019 – January 12, 2020.
Cerulean Arts Collective, 1355 Ridge Avenue,Philadelphia, PA 19123

Anne Marbles, “Gift of a Gull,” 14.5” x 18.5”included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio's group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.
Anne Marbles, “Gift of a Gull,” 14.5” x 18.5”included in Cerulean Arts Gallery & Studio’s group show. Photo courtesy Wit López.
Tags

Alan Lankin, alice lesnick, Anne Marble, Arts Studio, Cerulean, Dora Ficher, francisville, gallery, Jane Wilson, Joanne Karpowitz, lyft, Marguerite Heilman, michael kowbuz, Mt. Desert, north philadelphia, painting, ridge avenue, Rothko, sculpture, Tina Rocha

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