through May 23, 2012
By: Eva Piatek
In times when the age-old mantra “painting is dead” can still haunt the minds and works of many artists struggling to bring something new to the medium, it is refreshing to find a show like PEEP: A Curious Look into Painting. Curated by Alana Bograd, the exhibition invites viewers to “crawl out of their spaces” and step into the worlds of artists from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Dubrovnik, playfully encouraging us to “take a gander, have a look-see, peer and peek this one out,” as stated in the press release. Although it represents a handful of artists coming from some of today’s biggest art meccas, there is nothing pretentious about the show, nor does it purposely attempt to address the so-called death of painting. Instead, it invites people to examine the diverse ways in which artists approach the medium, incorporating styles and subject matter that range from traditional to experimental, representational to abstract.
The works hang on the walls in side-by-side format, drawing attention to each painting as a single object instead of focusing on the bigger picture of how these works relate on a holistic level. On the one hand, such an arrangement facilitates closer study of each work in terms of its physical qualities, which is optimal for works like Farrell Brickhouse’s Reveler’s July (Painting to Celebrate The Passage of The Marriage Equality Act). Its short, thickly applied brushstrokes yo-yo the eye back and forth between the work’s tactile texture and array of mottled colors, which work together to make the two mysterious figures barely distinguishable. Yet aside from their obvious kinship as paintings, there is no clear indication of what exactly ties all these works together to form a cohesive show. This makes the exhibit all the more curious, calling upon viewers to piece together their own connections.
One such connection may be made between Reveler’s July and Jordan Graw’s Mile High Toilet Line, hanging right beside it. Graw’s work is much softer and wider in brushstroke than Brickhouse’s, yet the depiction of Graw’s figures is also somewhat mottled in hue, making them appear as anonymous, colorized shapes similar to those in Reveler’s July. Waiting in line on an airplane to use the bathroom, a moment that can be the most awkward, dull, and unavoidable for travelers, suddenly takes on a new dimension. The black of the airplane’s aisle, in contrast with the candy-like pastel hues filling the rest of the image, reminds me of a tunnel that stretches into the depths of an unknown world, which so many of us anticipate while in transit on those long plane rides. As one figure delves into this darkness, two others seem to peek out in aak, a completely different work by Keer Tanchak. The aluminum support, painted fleshy pink and shaped to resemble a tree trunk, evokes feminine imagery in the style of Georgia O’Keefe, as velvety red folds of color surround two figures peering out of a hole.
Taking center-stage on the gallery walls are four paintings by Sarah Gamble, arranged in a grid. Rays of color projecting from her figures’ eyes and surrounding them (as in Life’s Troubles) appear as a cross between a freak accident from a science fiction novel and a supernatural moment associated with extrasensory perception. Far Away, displayed directly below Life’s Troubles, oddly stands out for its lack of bright color or figuration. Instead, a few orbs of light are softly painted against a dark background, looking like stars, fireflies, or – as her other works suggest – traces of an extraterrestrial occurrence.
On the wall next to Gamble’s foursome, John Kilduff brings some humor to the show with Fuck You, a painting depicting a viewpoint looking up directly into a blue sky surrounded by palm trees and the words “Fuck You” painted to mimic elegant skywriting. Next to it hangs Shanjana Mahmud’s Egypt, depicting a geometric burst of gouache and digital print on canvas, echoing the arrangement of Kilduff’s palm trees but much more abstract and mystical, reminiscent of a brilliant kaleidoscope. Such an image aptly reflects the show as a whole, reminding us to take a curious “peep” into its space as we would into an actual kaleidoscope and gaze at the clashing visions that capture our attention, if only for a fleeting moment.
Born, raised, and still here in Philadelphia, Eva Piatek is a jack of all trades but is currently pursuing her MA in Art History at Tyler School of Art. She enjoys dabbling in the city’s art scene, has had a few curatorial gigs here and there, and hopes to maybe open her own gallery someday.