Must see shows for the month of May

Jill O’Bryan, rock, paper, breath at Gallery Joe

April 28 – June 2

Jill O’Bryan’s graphite drawings are about the presence of the body in the act/context of drawing. Either engaging with the space around her or recording simple, involuntary actions like breathing, O’Bryan follows and points to a long history of feminist art in which the body is both at the center and a point of departure. In O’Bryan’s work, the body, although not visible, is translated through movement or notations into a language of shapes and texture, at times reminiscent of hieroglyphs or code language. She constructs a conversation between her body and each work, while at the same time involving the idea of presence in time and being part of a place.

Process is very important for O’Bryan. She takes large pieces of paper out in the desert land of New Mexico, lays them on large rocks and rubs graphite onto the surface, tracing the rugged texture of the terrain. She then completes the drawings in her studio in New York. The result is a stunning: the ‘rock drawings’ are texturally rich, monumental, expansive; they vibrate and pulsate while at the same time betraying the intimacy and gentleness of the artist’s encounter and connection with the land. In comparison, the ‘breath drawings’ are more static. O’Bryan records her breathing through making a mark, and the drawings are constructed out of the juxtaposition of these marks. In her X x 20 breaths series she constructs a shape out of 20 breaths, while in her other drawings, such as 18,382 breaths between 1/38/2012 and 3/13/2012, the repetitive graphite marking of her breath onto the rice paper transforms it into a three-dimensional object. The ‘breath drawings’ have a unique texture, they are vibrant and alive, even though they are quiet and meditative. I never thought that by being so calculated and restrained, one can achieve such richness and depth, but O’Byran managed to prove me wrong. Her work is intriguing and definitely not easy to forget.

The contrast and complementarity between the two series of drawings make this show even more intriguing. Patterns, textures, graphite, refinement, and the minimal, are aesthetic features I am usually drawn to, but rock, paper, breath is a show that will impress every viewer.


Jennifer Bartlett, Addresses (1976-1978) at Locks Gallery

Apr 20 – May 25, 2012

Jennifer Bartlett is best known for her colorful and now iconic paintings and prints of houses. Using both elements of realism and abstraction, depiction and interpretation, object and sign, Bartlett uses the simplified, child-like, image of a house—a triangle on top of a square—to create large, monumental landscapes of different street addresses where her friend’s have resided, addresses that are connected to specific memories and personal histories.

The ‘landscapes’ are constructed, following a grid-like pattern, out of one-foot enameled plates, a medium Bartlett has been using since the late 1960s. The paintings are very large, reaching 30 feet in 5725 Ocean Boulevard, colorful, and quite impressive. She combines rigid geometric shapes with gestural strokes and rich patterns into images that I would call the re-re-interpretation of landscape. My favorite piece, Falcon Avenue, Seaside Walk, Dwight Street, Jarvis Street, Greene Street, from 1976, shows the same image repeated, de-constructed, and re-interpreted according to Barlett’s memories and the distinct personalities of the people who lived at theses addresses.

Locks Gallery presents in this exhibition four of Bartlett’s seventeen Addresses paintings. Although painted almost thirty years ago, these landscapes feel fresh and new, both in concept and the artist’s distinct aesthetic.


Billy and Steven Dufala, F, at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery

April 5th – May 12th, 2012

The Dufala Brothers’ (Billy and Steven) works are always in conversation with one another. This exhibition has on display a few graphite drawings and watercolors (done by Steven) as well as sculptures and installations (usually Billy’s creations). Even though their work has become kind of an icon of cool on the Philadelphia art scene, a status that I find truly boring, I cannot help but like their work. It is sarcastic, humorous, even grotesque, yet beautifully crafted, and most importantly, for me anyway, critical of our world.

Lately, when you think of critique and sarcasm in someone’s artwork, you rarely expect great craftsmanship or good taste. I appreciate the fact that the work displayed by the Dufala Brothers, even when created from banal materials like duct tape, is both aesthetically tasteful and conceptually witty.

Some of the artwork in this exhibition is made out of recyclable materials, now almost exclusively used by Steven for his sculptures and installations. The Dufala Brothers have taken an important step in promoting and making available recyclable materials for artists. They have thus taken a claim as part of the city and contribute to its ‘health.’ This is the ideal kind of an artist, one that comes forward with visually strong work and at the same time becomes an important part of the city and its art community. So yes, I do like their work, in spite of the coolness; I admire the Dufala Brothers’ fearlessness and their vision.


Jan Baltzell, New Works, at Schmidt Dean Gallery

April 20 – May 19

I rarely get to see such raw, pure, juicy painting. There is not one work in this show that is less exciting than another. Baltzell is not just a great colorist, she is the real deal: an amazing painter. Her paintings seem alive and the colors able to inhale the air around them. She masterfully plays with different textures and brush strokes, with opacity and fluidity, creating simple beauty and distinct sophistication. Her compositions flow in and out of the page, never allowing the eye of the viewer to settle or get bored, even though there are plenty of quiet spaces in within the image.

I was always amazed at how Baltzell manages to strike the perfect balance between the beauty of color and roughness of textures, between gestural strokes and empty spaces of resolution; she activates the entire surface, creating bold, yet melodic compositions. Baltzell’s work suggests complete freedom combined with extraordinary composure and deliberate calculations: her paintings are elastic, reverberant, rich, and meditative at the same time.

Schmidt Dean Gallery’s generous, bright space, affords Baltzell’s work the abundant light it deserves. The vibrancy and airiness of Baltzell’s paintings need plenty of space around it in order to be enjoyed by the viewer. You don’t want distractions when you look at her work; you have to allow yourself to be fully immersed and experience each image.

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