JENNIFER LEVONIAN AND PEARL BLAUVELT
JULY 26-AUGUST 30, 2013
Jennifer Levonian crafts compelling narratives around the mundane and often overlooked moments of contemporary life. The animation, Take Your Picture With A Puma, is crafted from hundreds of watercolor paintings and follows an American tourist on her quest for authentic experiences in Mexico. Armed with a Lonely Planet Guidebook, she instead travels along the well-trodden path of other like-minded tourists. Surrounded by cruise ships, open air markets, catfights, and teenagers making out, the protagonist eventually finds an unlikely friendship in a Mexican bakery. The Oven Sky is a watercolor animation of the song of the same name by artist and musician Rachel Mason. The work is set in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood where newcomers pressure a longtime resident to convert her yard filled with garish lawn ornaments into a dog park. Also on view are Levonian’s carved and painted sculptures of books, inspired by the diaries of Louisa May Alcott, which were published posthumously and against the author’s wishes.
Together with these works will be several of Pearl Blauvelt’s graphite and colored pencil drawings made circa 1940 and discovered in 2000 in a remote farmhouse in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Like Levonian, the everyday world around Blauvelt inspired her subject matter; Sears and Roebuck catalogs, advertisements, clothing, and furniture are poetically rendered on notebook paper, envelopes, and paper bags.
While Levonian captures the essence of contemporary urban, middle-class tedium, Blauvelt provides a glimpse into rural life of the mid 1900s. Taken together, these two artists’ works catalog with sharp detail common objects and events, offering a glimpse into the lives of others and providing provocative insights into social mores and material culture.
Jennifer Levonian was born in 1977 and lives and works in Philadelphia. Her work has been exhibited at venues including Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibits; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Sarah Lawrence College, New York; Exit Art, New York; the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; and Sante Fe Art Institute, New Mexico. Levonian has been a resident at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the Millay Colony for the Arts. She received her BA from The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. In 2009, she was awarded the Pew Fellowship in the Arts.
Little is known about Pearl Blauvelt except that she was of Dutch descent and from a family deeply rooted in religion. Born in 1893, she lived reclusively in a small house in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY; The John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, WI; and The Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, NC.
PAUL SWENBECK AND JOY FEASLEY: MOONS OF A DEWDROP
JUNE 7–JULY 20, 2013
With shared interests in geology, science fiction, and fringe belief systems, Paul Swenbeck and Joy Feasley experiment across a variety of media to create an otherworldly experience rooted in art history as well as craft and folk traditions.
Swenbeck and Feasley’s visions converge around a central plinth that serves as a place of discovery. Housed on top and within are Swenbeck’s craggy ceramics, inspired by natural wonders, from boxwork and mandrake roots, to underwater sea life and fossils. In the hands of Swenbeck, these natural curiosities are given volition and the line between animate and inanimate is blurred. Feasley intervenes with her alien math—imposing geometric and crystalline patterns atop Swenbeck’s organic forms.
Mager discs, used by dowsers along with their divining rods, are made with fused colored glass and nod to the pair’s love of Shaker design and simplicity. In the context of this exhibition, the discs symbolize a search or perhaps an attempt to better understand our world and its mysteries. Feasley’s moody, surreal landscape paintings are transformed by Swenbeck’s trusted ceramic techniques. In the work, Moons in a Dewdrop, Swenbeck uses the pattern of Jomon pottery–created by pressing rope into unfired pottery–on the painting’s underlayer to yield marks that are then transformed by Feasley into the ocean at the Oregon coast. Feasley conjures a Pacific Northwest forest from the speckled patterning that results from Swenbeck’s use of decalcomania, a technique by which prints are transferred to pottery. Also on view will be photographs made using a prism that reveal apparitions and disjunctures in the landscape and works that explore magic and illusion.
Together, the artists’ work forms a supernatural cabinet of curiosities that offers an alternative to mainstream values and belief systems; they look for both questions and answers in uncommon real and imagined places. This is their third collaborative exhibition.
Paul Swenbeck (b. 1967) graduated with a degree in ceramics from Massachusetts College of Art in 1991. His work has been exhibited at The Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Morris Gallery, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Fleisher/Ollman, Philadelphia; Vox Populi, Philadelphia; Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston.
Joy Feasley (b. 1966) studied at Massachusetts College of Art, Cooper Union, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Her work has been shown widely in Philadelphia, including solo exhibitions at Locks Gallery, Fleisher Art Memorial, and Vox Populi. She has also shown in group exhibitions in Raleigh, North Carolina; Tokyo, Japan; Waltham, Massachusetts; and Brooklyn, New York. Feasley will have a solo exhibition at Locks Gallery, Philadelphia in Fall 2013.
VAGINAL DAVIS AND PHILADELPHIA WIREMAN
MAY 3-JUNE 1, 2013
Vaginal Davis and Philadelphia Wireman engage in a personal and idiosyncratic alchemy using cheap and discarded materials–including eyeshadow, hairspray and nail polish, tape, batteries, and wire–that are mixed, smeared or bound together. Obsessive, intuitive and prolific, both Davis’ and Wireman’s works are powerful forms of portraiture, which conjure mysterious figures, both real and invented, otherworldly and historical.
Vaginal Davis is a performance artist, painter, independent curator, writer, film maker, musician, and self-proclaimed “doyenne of intersexed art.” After leaving her hometown of Los Angeles for Berlin in 2006, Davis began to cover the walls of her new studio/apartment with hundreds of paper clippings, almost exclusively the heads and bodies of men cut from newspapers, magazines and her own snapshots. As this collage began to eclipse the white walls completely, Davis started to create small paintings of women, which she intersperses among the otherwise overwhelmingly and overbearingly male photomontage. These intimate paintings of women exists as equal parts self-portrait and homage.
Using her own personal beauty products as pigments for her paintings, Davis places the small scale works amidst her living collage of appropriated images of men, in a sense replicating her own real life experience as an independent, self-made woman navigating the complexities of a male dominated culture. However, when Davis presents the paintings outside of the context of her apartment, each gains individuality by being given a title that references a specific woman from history. Much of Davis’s work, as well as the formation of her own identity, continues to be concerned with assembling and referencing a lineage of unknown histories of independent, outlaw, and visionary female figures ranging from Hollywood stars, to artists, cultural icons, writers and fictional characters. Each painting becomes a portrait and a tribute, granting its subject a space of prominence, power and visibility.
In the late 1970s a cache of over one thousand distinctive wire sculptures was found discarded on the street in Philadelphia. The collection of objects came to be attributed to a single person, who remains unknown. The Philadelphia Wireman sculptures consist of different gauges of wire wrapped around everyday objects and materials including food packaging, umbrella parts, tape, batteries, pens, foil, coins, toys, watches, eyeglasses, tools, and jewelry. While these assemblages resonate with historical and contemporary art practices alike, it is also possible that these mysterious bundles are an American iteration of traditional African power objects.
Vaginal Davis and Philadelphia Wireman share creative practices that might be more readily considered in relation to divination or magic, where the act of creation is always linked to belief, and understood and employed as a profoundly powerful force. Both Wireman’s sculptures and Davis’ paintings are entirely specific to the contexts in which they were created, but their resonance in the gallery setting lies in their displacement and their new role as ambassadors of purpose from the worlds of their makers.
MARCH 1-APRIL 27, 2013
Bill Walton (1931-2010) was born in Camden, New Jersey. After serving in the Navy as an electronics technician during the Korean War, he briefly studied at the Institute of Design in Chicago. In 1958, Walton moved to the Philadelphia area where he worked as a commercial printmaker, a trade that was passed down to him by his father. Interested in the materials used for printmaking–wood, lead, steel–more than the finished product, Walton was poised for a life-changing experience when, in 1964, he saw an exhibition of minimal sculptural works at a local museum. Some years later, he revealed that he had gone home that afternoon and changed the occupation listed on his driver’s license from “commercial printer” to “artist.”
Over the course of more than forty years, Walton made an exceptional and poetic body of work using common materials such as floorboards, wisteria branches, and paper napkins from his favorite diner, while employing simple gestures like stacking, folding, and turning. In this sense, he adopted the formal language of Minimalism - indeed, it is often difficult to differentiate Walton’s interventions from the raw materials used to create his works. Yet his works are also highly personal, handmade and small-scale. He chose never to date his work, believing rather that it was always in process and that materials were informed by their own histories, which they would bear even as they were subjected to subtle transformations. As such, Walton’s works also share characteristics of assemblage, Arte Povera and process art.
Walton was an avid fly fisherman and traveled each year to new rivers and streams, taking concise notes along the way that described the landscape and his experience. “Morris Run,” he once wrote, “it joins the stream somewhere close past the flats-But I’ve never seen it.” Relationships of all kinds, from man to nature, rock to water, path to road, figure prominently. “They cross each other. Run alongside you or veer off in odd directions. It is hard to know which one will take you where.” As metal gently twists around a piece of wood or cloth drapes over painted plywood, the work distills those special places and relationships as much as it celebrates the beauty of everyday objects.