The medium is the message

"Surface as Signifier' at Crane Arts Center

3 minute read
Amdur's 'Amass #1': Waiting for a meteorite.
Amdur's 'Amass #1': Waiting for a meteorite.
Try finding a gallery in Philadelphia that exhibits 21st-Century art instead of all those rehashes of 19th- and 20th-century images: impressionist landscapes of snow-covered trees and fields, quaint urban vignettes and even trompe l'oeil. "Surface As Signifier" is a welcome addition to the very few galleries that acknowledge a new approach in art. It displays work by nine regional artists, with a focus on process. Here, suddenly, you're participating in the creation of a work of art.

This exhibit, organized by Peg Curtin and Bruce Garrity, opens our eyes to current issues in the art world: how textures and patterns can shape our reflexes, what mundane elements of our daily lives can be utilized in the making of art.

In this context, surface becomes important in visually abstract work. Each of these artists explores what it means to them, with very different results.

Surface can be anything that works for the artist in making a visual statement. Margery Amdur employs cosmetic sponges coated with pastel pigments to create irregular surfaces, recalling primordial landscapes that seem in a state of anticipation, waiting for a meteorite or human discovery.

Vapor, ice and water

Robert Straight investigates circular forms in subtle color transformations, creating a rhythmic pattern across laser-cut paper mounted on wood. P-484— with his acrylic paint forms on cheesecloth, then mounted on paper— set the tone of the exhibition. Viewing that, you know you can expect a high level of artistry here and now.

Leslie Wayne's paintings define the title of this exhibition. They are colorful, abstract compositions in oil paint on wood. Some areas of each work are expressed with textured curls of paint, creating patterns that seem to vibrate. The surface defines the work with a sensitive vitality.

Nicole Donnelly has employed handmade linen panels, hanging free from the ceiling, stained in an evocation of a state of nature: In her Solid States: Vapor, Ice, Water, ice is the only solid in the group, and it's usually in a state of flux.

Anne Seidman's paintings with water media on rag board, mounted on wood, are joyous expressions of color forms, creating a vital sense of spontaneity. She seems to know just which colors will enliven the adjacent ones. Her paintings, with no visible images, exude an awareness of life here and now.

Donna Czapiga's digital photographs created haunting studies of light and darkness.

The ultimate Bauhaus?

Fruitville, Douglas Witmer's series of mixed media paintings on flat wooden forms, returns to the concept of minimalism but with a new emphasis of texture and form as an integral part of each work. He has stripped the aesthetic object down to its vital essence and it works. It could be the ultimate Bauhaus expression of "Less Is More."

James Lee creates visual compositions with a variety of media plus packing tape and duct tape on corrugated cardboard, nylon and wood. His works of art seemed the most sophisticated in their elegant simplicity. Take time to look at and savor each one. In particular, don't miss In Your Grave III.

James Erikson's abstract oil paintings on canvas are the closest to 20th-Century art, and a welcome return to something familiar. He makes us aware of light and its special relationship to each individual. This Morning, recalling the early morning sunshine in spring, is a welcome home.

This exhibition is an exploration of one of the new dimensions of art: process and its evidence of flux. It introduces us to a new role of potential active participation in a work of art. The viewer's sense of touch is mentally awakened. The next step might be inviting the viewer to take part in the creation.♦

To read responses, click here.

What, When, Where

“Surface As Signifier.†Through March 22, 2013 at University of Delaware Gallery, Crane Arts Center, 1400 N. American St., first floor.

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