“What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things… it is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface.”
Joan Perkes, Curator of the exhibition takes the Brancusi statement further in her Curator Notes where she says, “For me the surface is just a tease to the truth below.”
It’s important to keep those comments in mind as you walk through the museum’s first floor galleries where works of seven widely recognized and honored abstract artists are on display in the Nature of Abstraction exhibit along with works by another six highly-accomplished artists who Perkes and co-curator Joseph Longino suggest you keep on your radar.
As many of the titles suggest, the works found their genesis in nature and architecture, in dance, music and poetry, in spiritual epiphanies and even in mundane happenings. What you will be experiencing in the galleries are the artists’ emotional responses to these things that have passed through their lives.
For example, Hamilton artist Michael Madigan who is exhibiting two large acrylic paintings is known for his visual expressions of memories from his extensive travels. In his works, shapes and colors come up against one another, sometimes over others, often scraped so the essence of one veils those beneath the way thoughts and memories have a way of doing.
Amaranth Ehrenhalt’s paintings, on the other hand, convey spontaneity and excitement about the life she is immersed in. Born in New York, she lived and worked in Paris for thirty years while traveling to Morocco and Tunisia. She returned to New York in 2008.
In her paintings, shapes that have an identity all their own move rhythmically on a picture plane that is packed solid with action. Her mohair and mixed media tapestry suggests a spirit of moving from bright and colorful activity toward a radiant and glowing purple peace.
The exhibition comprises twenty-seven forged steel and wrought iron and fabrication sculptures by David Cann as well as two bronze sculptures and two hydrocal with either pigment or encaustic by Mark Pettigrew. Most of Cann’s works are intricately shaped and table-top size. His Grasses, however stand more than eight feel tall before the double glass doors of the gallery. Pettigrew’s exquisite wall mounted Wave Abstraction attracts your attention from afar and draws you into its presence.
Virginia Cuppaidge also looks to water for her inspiration as well as sky and vegetation. Her palette for Eucalyptus captures the warmth of the tropics. Her brush goes to the luminosity of white tones and yellows sparked with small areas of rainbow hues for her Bee Map and End Hill Sunrise.
Maria Schon says the rolling corrugated shapes she portrays in her 44-inch-square oil paintings refer to rolling landmasses, swollen oceans and luminous skies and relate to “the power of Nature and the Feminine.” Done in a limited palette, each is haunting and mystical.
Janet Filomeno goes to a high-key palette for her massive renderings that also reference nature. In the catalog, she says water embodies all the themes that interest her: “birth, life and death.” Working variably in shellac, acrylic, oil and ink she does achieve a sense of flow even though, in the works exhibited here, her “water” is never blue. Instead, opaque layers of white travel across puddles, drips and splashes of brilliant color.
Artists the curators suggest we keep on our radar are: W. Carl Burger, Alan Goldstein, Pat Martin, Florence Moonan, Jan Morgan, and Louise Strawbridge. You can enjoy their works in the Thomas Malloy gallery on the right as soon as you enter the museum.
You’ll see Carl Burger’s dramatic oil paintings such as Beyond Earth where bursts of white, glows of orange, blue, red and sharp black marks spark and seem to crackle in a vast expanse of darkness.
Alan Goldstein uses inks, pastels and watercolors on rice paper for what he calls his “search for the microcosm not grand vistas…” And Florence Moonan, who works in Venetian Plaster, sometimes using graphite, acrylic or oil sticks, says she is a painter “who loves the element of surprise.”
Pat Martin also works in Venetian Plaster and acrylic. Her Urban Wall II is a beautiful layering of grays and umbers with some highlights of white. You look at that wall and you see the history of its aging as well as Martin’s respect for and love of her image as it developed under her hand.
Louise Strawbridge likes to work with what she describes in the catalog as ordinary, humble and found objects because, she says, “they already have a history.” If you feel you need to see representation, you might imagine you see a rocky coastline or a crumbling wall. But that is not necessary because the beauty is in the composition and the objects themselves.
Jan Morgen’s gray and white works are unique. Built with paper mounted on wood with mixed media, they are like the quiet weavings of contemplation.
And that is what this exhibit offers visitors—an opportunity to step into the minds and emotions of these fine artists letting their images lead you from a surface of paint, fiber or steel into your own private contemplations on what you are seeing—your own interpretations.
IF YOU GO
WHERE: Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion, Cadwalader Park, 299 Parkside Avenue.
WHEN: Through November 8. Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. Gallery talks 2 p.m., October 18 and November 8.
CONTACT: Curator Joan Perkes: 609-989-3632.
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