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‘Around the Block,’ Branche Coverdale’s ode to neighborhood life

Branche Coverdale's exhibit, Around the Block, at Paradigm Gallery and Studio has paintings that are funky and "in a semi-nostalgic register," says our reviewer, Corey Qureshi. Corey concludes that the works "use modern sensibilities to depict potentially (probably) past tense moments. His (Coverdale's) playfully warped people and settings are the focus of his loving gaze. This show is especially great for fans of illustrated, cartoon-inspired visuals. Go check it out!"

A painting by Branche Coverdale, depicting a man in a white hoodie and beanie with a beard holding a child in blue jeans and a beige jacket. The skin tones of both people are a deep blue. Both figures hold a solemn and calm face. The man lovingly holds the child. He sits in an area appearing to be a park with a church in it, as an angel looms.
“Father and Daughter,” 30 x 24, acrylic gouache on wood panel. Courtesy of Paradigm Gallery and Studios

In ever-changing urban landscapes across the US, the past is quickly being taken to the garbage.

Buildings full of past lives are demolished near-daily, cubic tons of mementos and obscure personal devices from inside these places make their way to local landfills. So much points forward, ahead at what’s to come, ignoring the danger our histories are in.

Though it’s more my interpretation than an overt endorsement of the past, the artist Branche Coverdale‘s solo show Around the Block at Paradigm‘s new location in Old City, works in a semi-nostalgic register. His twelve, city-focused acrylic gouache paintings traverse chill, regular, and sweet concrete scenes. The way the pictures eschew modern technologies to look at people in various life moments suggests a closeness that comes from memory.

It’s rare you see a woman with Betty Boop decals on the window of a Honda from the early 90’s riding around these days. In Finger Wave, 8-bit gradation from street lights illuminates the driver’s goodbye as she pulls off into the night. Moths flutter about like little virtual sprites. The image being put on rag paper adds a choppiness to its borders that further texture it in a way reminiscent of old (8-bit) computer graphics. In other pieces, details like window grating and the play of light across objects are depicted in minimal, chunky strokes that seem done by an index finger via a tablet or phone, another nod to digital art.

Before entering the show, I wasn’t aware that Coverdale has a history doing commercial design for names like The New York Times, Warby Parker, and Adult Swim, among others. Adult Swim especially makes sense, considering the funky, illustrated quality of the paintings reminiscent of shows like Midnight Gospel mixed with the current aesthetics you see all over digital journalism.

Image of Paradigm Gallery with paintings by Branche Coverdale each with a poppy expression of reds, blues, and yellows showing people in various scenes.
Gallery Shot, Installation view of Around the Block. Courtesy of Paradigm Gallery and Studios

Softer, near-neon oranges pigment the people in the pieces, animating activity in the scenes depicted. Vibrant and sleepy blues contrast the lively events via shadow and stillnesses, best shown in “Father and Daughter.” A father is dozing off as he holds his sleeping child in the shadows of what could be a home, a church, or some other homely institution (based on hints provided by the sparse background). The casual pillar in the room brings me back to an older style of interior design, one that only exists today in the homes of people with the same setup they had decades ago.While figures and objects are definitely there, the boundaries between them are blurred in Coverdale’s work, like the entangling of parent and childs’ limbs in “Father and Daughter.” This bleeding effect asks the viewer to either catch the flow of surfaces into one another, or see various moments in the paintings as forms that stand out as markings barely associated with one another.

This looseness can be felt especially in “Double Hooded,” a depiction of two beings hanging out on a park bench, their faces obscured inside their hoodies. When you get under the bench, down to the area near their feet and the ground in front of them, the picture opens up in a way that forces your eyes to readjust. This mess is intriguing, one of the few fantasy moments among the warped realism of Around the Block.

I will say, I wish the artist had gone bigger for some of the works. The scenes don’t quite breathe the way it seems like they should. In a way, “Double Hooded” goes for this expansive feeling via installation. The small wood panel is set over a skeletal replica of a park bench with accompanying fake grass, which tapers off into some of the show’s thematic staples painted on the wall —- chain link fences, apartment complexes. But the image itself leaves me wanting more. There were a few other small installations, but I didn’t think they needed to be included. Why install tiny moments that feel lonely in the general focus on the walls?

Branche Coverdale’s debut solo exhibition uses modern sensibilities to depict potentially (probably) past tense moments. His playfully warped people and settings are the focus of his loving gaze. This show is especially great for fans of illustrated, cartoon-inspired visuals. Go check it out!

Branche Coverdale’s Around the Block is on view at Paradigm Gallery and Studios from August 4–27, 2023. 12 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106. Thursdays and Fridays 10am-6pm, Saturdays 11am-6pm, Sundays 11am-5pm, 7 days a week by appointment. The gallery is not wheelchair accessible.