224 N. Juniper St., Philadelphia, PA 19107
The artists included in De-Nature, curated by the painter Wendy White, are concerned with dismantling what might be considered “natural” in painting, i.e. a coherently painted canvas stretched over a rectangular wooden frame and displayed on a wall. Disassembling and reconfiguring the elements of painting is a project that has been ongoing for at least a century, but White offers insight into how a new generation of artists is attacking the problem. In the absence of consensus painting norms to transgress, the artists in De-Nature play freely with the old alphabet of painting, rearranging the letters to generate new strategies for the articulation of meaning. The emphasis is on reconstruction and fresh possibilities.
Bill Saylor and Paul DeMuro hew closest to tradition, while finding unique ways to invigorate it. In an inspired curatorial move, White has leaned Saylor’s painting “Neptune’s Machine” against the wall on a slanted floor, propping up the low corner of the painting with a micro-pedestal about two inches high. Saylor, the veteran in this exhibit, paints with such humor and abandon that this small propping gesture fits perfectly, coming across large and hilariously absurd. The youngest member of the show is DeMuro, who applies paint like double-thick cake frosting. His vibrantly colored patterns allude to quilts, tapestries, and other fabric works, without directly assuming their tropes. DeMuro has also created a site-specific, monochrome installation in off-whites and creams, taking a bedroom closet as its point of departure. The display of shoes, garments, sheets, shelves, and other familiars is abstracted just enough to shift into the realm of imagination.
Brian Bellot and Lamar Peterson share an impulse to complicated goofiness. Bellot’s “Clock-eyed Cat (Cocoa)” is simultaneously adorable and bizarre, its eyes transformed into symmetrical clocks marking time. Peterson’s “Red-Handed” is cutesy at first glance, but descends deeper into darkness the longer one looks. In a laminated, candy-colored world, a man sits in his front yard, grinning insanely at a disembodied red hand on a table, while his feet disappear down a hole. Collectible stickers of childhood are scattered across the picture’s surface: piglet, butterfly, fish, green pepper, a teddy bear’s head, and lots more. The forced glee and funhouse nostalgia both amuse and sicken.
Sarah Peters, Rachel Foullon, and Liz Markus each work in a stripped down vocabulary. Peters’ drawings consist of crosshatching writ large, and transformed into an elemental play of sweeping curves, light, and darkness evoking the sublime. Foullon’s custom-made cedar planks refer to rural architecture, but in this context they also recall wooden canvas stretchers, splayed out in diagonals to take possession of the wall from floor to ceiling. In the center of the intersecting planks Foullon has driven an enormous nail, from which a dyed canvas hangs like a worn apron at the ready, or as an abstract sign to be read and interpreted. Markus’s work feels the most bare-bones of all, a diptych of stretched canvas on which she has collaged a few pages from art magazines just above a faintly glowing horizontal line of paint, suggesting a horizon in the commercial art market. Yet the dominant feature of the diptych is the open expanse of canvas, as if to say, “Hey, relax, there’s a big world out there.”