In the multi-dimensional city
ANNE R. FABBRI
Face it: Most of the galleries in Old City and Northern Liberties show works by “Emerging Artists,” most of whom will never emerge. The Pentimenti Gallery is different. Christine Pfister, its director, selects artists whose work would be appreciated by knowledgeable patrons in any urban milieu. Her criteria are those of the art world in London, Paris or Munich— a refreshing relief from local déjà vu all over again.♦
Pentimenti’s current exhibitions include paintings and an installation by Steven Baris that can change your view of all those new, towering buildings cluttering our cityscape. Baris studies them with an artist’s eye and makes us aware of their innate structure through a transparency and a certain geometry that ties everything together.
“Urban Compression,” a group of ten paintings in the main gallery, lifts us up and away, as if we’re viewing urban cluster from the sky. Six oil and acrylic paintings on canvas present geometrical volumes in primary colors seen against the grid lines of paving, poles and other diagrammatic forms.
Urban Compression D1, on mylar, his most recent work, is multi-dimensional, with three to seven layers of shapes against a grayed green background. In this one, the city is even more in flux. It seems to change before your eyes. Small, circular paintings of oil and acrylic on Plexiglas provide a quiet coda with tonal check backgrounds and an occasional free form cloud or round moon.
Not just the usual artist’s material
The installation by Baris in the Project Room, “Ruse of Transparency,” employs Plexiglas as an important medium in his art and not just as the usual material on which an artist paints. Baris coats the surface of the Plexiglas, giving it a frosted appearance that makes it translucent. Then he might paint the skeleton of a building in white on the surface, one color shape of the form on the reverse side plus a different color shape painted on the wall directly behind.
The effect is magical. It transforms the buildings into living entities. I was fascinated.
Ruse of Transparency 1 (66 x 48 inches) presents a tower in a white, linear format, backed by a reddish form accentuated by a similar deeply colored shape painted on the wall. Ruse of Transparency 3, a small triptych, features a green surface structure, punctuated by a red reverse side and a blue shape on the wall. And Ruse of Transparency 5 is a delightful play of black outlines creating a night view of a tower, backed with grey and a yellow shape painted on the wall that seems to be the urban night illumination.
Artists open our eyes to qualities in our visual landscape that we might see without being fully aware of them. Baris has really looked at the towers we might love or hate but which we ultimately cease to notice. He has shown us what happens when a building is almost all glass, reflecting its surroundings plus all the interior illumination.
From a passing car window
Also at Pentimenti, Kim Beck creates an interesting coda for environmental study in “They Paved Paradise,” a collection of laser etchings on paper of islands of trees that form small urban forests along the margins of parking lots. Her exhibit also includes graphite drawings of urban detritus and natural elements. Beck employs an expert technique and an original vision to create works of art from objects usually not noticed from the windows of a passing car or train.
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