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Painting is Frozen Music

Run right over to Vox Populi to catch this miraculous intergenerational painting show before it closes June 11. But first be sure to read Lane's poetic and analytical review. Summing up the exhibition, Lane says, "It is hopeful for the status of Philadelphia contemporary painting that such a brilliant array can be sampled from, introducing viewers to a wide swath of artistic conversations. It’s special in that it claims to know no answers, always becoming, never completing."

Only a mind truly devoted to the inexplicable could come up with this curation. Whirls of glitter face opposite a transsexual Christ which sits next to a neon-dotted mask. A rude tongue is hung next to an open wrought iron fence and a precious candlelit star-shaped jack-o-lantern. This show contains both the bravado and vulnerability it takes to be a contemporary painter. Often painters relay how the canon of painting history weighs on them as they approach a blank surface – why try where so many have already succeeded? Why try when so many have failed? Painting is Frozen Music is a curated painting showcase that doesn’t answer these questions but instead asks another one, why try to succeed at all? Why not try for something else, something much weirder?

The curator, Jim Strong, is a painter and a musician. His years spent in the Philadelphia experimental music scene have given him a reputation for making strange sounds out of homemade instruments. Painting is Frozen Music is framed as a showcase but also an attempt to build community within Philadelphia painting. In lieu of a gallery talk, there will be a family-style spaghetti dinner on June 11th (4:30-6:30 pm at Vox Populi Gallery). One can see the family resemblance, affection, and jostling discord within all the paintings on display.

A framed painting in two panels hangs on a wall in a gallery, one panel dark and smoldering the other brighter and smiley.
Half empty half full and Fate in Peril, Anthony Campuzano, 2023, graphite, ink colored pencil, acrylic and flashe on paper. Image taken by Jim Strong, courtesy of Jim Strong, the artist and Fleisher Ollman Gallery

Although some would debate if all of the work clears the traditional hurdle of “painting” — what with all the drawing, collage, and sculptural elements. According to the show text, Strong is creating a portrait of a “community with who have chosen painting as a way of life”.

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The works sing, with warnings and advice. To quote a few; “half empty half full Fate in Peril”, “Lucky Strike”, “Gotcha”, “The mirror is a living thing, listening.” The show is bold in many ways but additionally, Strong curated his own work Endless Pleasure Countries into the show. This may be a point of contention amongst some, but if the show is a contemporary Philadelphia painting conversation, then he is also part of it. In Strong’s evaporated surface, an egg is being fertilized, which sets up a repeated formal theme in the rest of the show. Painting is frozen music, still creation. Drew Zimmerman’s collaged, sculptural piece, “Otter.ness” structurally looks like a spinning turn table and at the same time, otters chasing each other in a whirlpool. One begins to see circles, doors, gates, and windows everywhere both closed and opened. Even in the tiny dotted paint stacks that create the surface of Claes Gabriel’s “Zaboka,” his shaped canvas paintings at times arch away from the wall, the eye-smarting neons leaping forward. The strangeness of the shape is pressed back into the context of the show by the uncanny repeating pointed and curved shapes within Bambi Angel and Anne Minich’s work. Angel’s “Self portrait with Panda” and Minich’s “Gotcha” both mimic the same architectural shape of a brace, a type of parentheses used to present different choices. The similarity is quite eerie between these two very different artists’ works, and it prompts further inspection for this type of doubling throughout the show.

A gallery wall shows three paintings by three different artists that seem unified in their designs which use convex and concave curves to suggest the curves of the human form.
(From left to right) Gotcha, Anne Minich, Oil and Mixed Media on Wood, 2022; Self portrait with panda, Bambi Angel, Oil on Wood, 2023; Zaboka, Claes Gabriel, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 2023. Image taken by Jim Strong, courtesy of Jim Strong and the artists

Painting is Frozen Music intentionally brings together artists along many different points of their careers and lives. Intergenerational conversations are had between Anne Minich’s bleak and cheeky “Tongue/Sky/Blackwater/Plane” and Pomona Za’s cold and pretty iceberg “Verdonck.” The sharpness and deep darkness of Minich’s horizon contrast with the light touch of Za’s hand and soft palette choices. The teasing references of both come through in Minich’s weird underwater tongue, which taunts the viewer, and Za’s titular historical reference (Pieter Verdonck’s 1636 portrait by Frans Hals), which reveals the hidden jawbone, another oral allusion. Another unexpected conversation is between Henry Bermudez’s “Nocturno 1” and Anthony Campuzano’s “Jingle Jangle.” The two works joust texturally, the size of “Nocturno 1” and its whirling smooth vines and sharp reflective glitter forces a step back, while “Jingle Jangle” begs a closer look at the compulsive graphite scribbles cutting waxy puzzle pieces.

Also included in the textural display is Daisy Diamond’s “Chronicle of a Slow Growth.” It features an open wrought iron gate which fakes symmetry in favor of a crooked maze-like design, the gate opens to the faintest suggestion of a landscape on wood. What is revealed is still hidden. Painting is both utilitarian and decorative, illusory and protective, it may produce a picture but it cannot disguise itself.

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A framed painting of a dark forbidding landscape is bracketed by ornamental gate-like panels on left and right sides.
Chronicle of Slow Growth, Daisy Diamond, steel, found metal, blackening patina, image transfer of a lithograph, 2022. Image taken by Jim Strong, courtesy of Jim Strong and the artist

While its wildness is at times hardly contained at all, Painting is Frozen Music curates both young and old, loud and quiet, clear and coded, paintings in a way that is extremely rare. It is hopeful for the status of Philadelphia contemporary painting that such a brilliant array can be sampled from, introducing viewers to a wide swath of artistic conversations. It’s special in that it claims to know no answers, always becoming, never completing. In a perilous world where we are constantly demanding answers to larger and larger problems and when art and artists are expected to pick up this call to right the world, it is relieving to look at art that’s only working to be.

Painting is Frozen Music, until June 11, 2023. Vox Populi Gallery, 319 N. 11th St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

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