From bottles to the basilica

Cerulean Arts Gallery presents ‘New Radicals’

4 minute read
Claire Kincade’s ‘Franklin Place’ lets you feel the warmth and the chill. (Image courtesy of Cerulean.)
Claire Kincade’s ‘Franklin Place’ lets you feel the warmth and the chill. (Image courtesy of Cerulean.)

Tucked in the shadow of the newly restored Divine Lorraine Hotel, Cerulean Arts Gallery is located just off Broad Street, two subway stops north of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This month, it hosts a 14-person group show, New Radicals, curated by Philadelphia painter Aubrey Levinthal.

Since opening its doors more than a decade ago, Cerulean has become an esteemed institution for the city’s art scene and has helped launch many artists’ careers. Its latest exhibit, running through December 23, brings together a talented mix of younger and midcareer artists (many connected with PAFA) for an eye-catching potpourri of the city’s talent and a peek into the influences and creative dialogues within and outside of PAFA.

The lineup

The exhibit’s 28 pieces run in single file across three walls: paintings, watercolors, and drawings, as well as a 3D installation. The largest painting — and the show’s most figurative — is Claire Kincade’s Franklin Place. A still life of motley, stylized bottles is arranged on the windowsill against a cool-hued, wintry landscape. Sunlight spills on the sill, and you can feel the room’s warmth and the chill outside the panes.

By contrast, the abstractions of Samantha Mitchell appeal with a minimalism of closely spaced, ink-blue marks whose endless serialization shapes larger geometries. Each slightly different vertical mark — there are thousands — looks like a chromosome whose replication engenders space and form. (A skyscraper comes to mind in Blue Butte.)

Snapshots from a dream

Reminiscent of a skyscraper: Samantha Mitchell’s ‘Blue Butte.’ (Image courtesy of Cerulean.)
Reminiscent of a skyscraper: Samantha Mitchell’s ‘Blue Butte.’ (Image courtesy of Cerulean.)

Often inspired by Philly’s nighttime grit, Leigh Werrell’s paintings have the immediacy of snapshots, if snapshots could be texted from dreams. Her work transfigures seemingly random urban moments and moods into suggestive dreamscapes. The charcoal-dark façade of King of Wings, a fried chicken joint in South Philly, vanishes in the deep-blue darkness of a city of the mind belonging to Werrell alone.

Alex Cohen’s Via Sant Antonio ushers you into the Italian summer day you’ve always looked for, but never quite found. The rose façade of a palazzo, a basilica’s round apse, a lone tree on the piazza: all bathe in sunlight. A shadow creeps with its creamy purples down a stuccoed alley where pigments trade places with longings in the distance.

With its chunky freneticism, John Mitchell’s Georgia recalls Frank Auerbach’s fearless lines of deeply rutted color. You’ll want to linger inside its swirl of aggressive texture, mingling zags of umbers, greens, and whites.

Rewards of leisure

Works that resonated with me the most required and rewarded the slowest gaze. These were the paintings by Bill Scott, Bonnie Levinthal, and Evan Fugazzi, who share representational strategies and a sensibility about what constitutes a painting. Their paintings reveal themselves with the slowness of tea flowers blooming in water, and repay sustained attention with interest.

Reminiscent of a skyscraper: Samantha Mitchell’s ‘Blue Butte.’ (Image courtesy of Cerulean.)
Reminiscent of a skyscraper: Samantha Mitchell’s ‘Blue Butte.’ (Image courtesy of Cerulean.)

Bill Scott, a painter with a wide influence who taught at PAFA for years, is a master of subtle, subcutaneous hues, translucent layers and delicate, wispy cascades of shapes. While his work benefits from larger size, his three canvases at Cerulean (the largest is 18 by 24 inches) offer a great sampling of his aesthetic. Pink, with shades and mixtures of greens, blues, oranges, and pinks — from cranberry soda to salmon sashimi — forms a diaphanous world that opens and shifts, emanating the languor and ease of flora.

Bonnie Levinthal’s Nightfall (Atina) consists of luscious bands of blue running vertically and horizontally. The verticals could be a window curtain behind which sleeps a city. They might also be cascading waters. Shifting insinuations, layer by layer, mimic accretions of memory and time.

Evan Fugazzi dares painters to do more with simple structures. In Dye, a large ultramarine shape floats under translucent strokes of a darker, muted blue applied in horizontal strips with an extra-wide brush. The interactions of color, flickering with dark flecks and distant gleams, create ever-new protean spaces: from cosmic to subaquatic. Look at Dye long enough and you’ll think you are hallucinating its image.

Before leaving, don’t forget Aubrey Levinthal’s painting hiding behind the desk of proprietor Tina Rocha. The gallery likes to display an example of the guest curator’s work in that spot; Foggy Mirror is a little gem and a perfect parting gift from the show’s party of talents.

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What, When, Where

New Radicals. Through December 23, 2018, at Cerulean Arts Gallery, 1355 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia. (267) 514-8647 or

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