Tom Phardel @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

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Tom Phardel, Install image, Photographs by Tim Thayer and Robert Hensleigh, courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

Tom Phardel’s exhibition, Inner Core, opened at Simone DeSousa Gallery, October 15, 2016. The work continues in a direction that I first viewed when I wrote a review of Phardel’s exhibition at Popp’s Packing in May of 2015. Normally I would not write something this close to that period of work. However, this new work demands attention, exploration and, quite honestly, tribute.  The strengths in Phardel’s work are originality and a preponderance of skillful execution of materials that is not limited to clay, stone, glass or metal, but rather touches on all of these and more. He says in a statement, “It’s here, in the inner unseen spaces, that my interest lies, where the wisdom, power, and soul resides.”

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Tom Phardel, Red-Bi-Lobe “Listening” 2016 Fabricated steel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In R-Bi-Lobe “Listening”, which is similar to but refined from an earlier work, Phardel uses fabricated steel to create a perfect form, two ovals intersecting, and an interior oval with two valve-like openings. On a technical level, the work makes the viewer wonder how it was created or fabricated. Then there is a lustrous paint finish and a sanded edge that reveals the metal in a precise way. The object feels like a cross-section, but of what? These are all the qualities that make the sculpture so strong that it leaves the viewer with a longing for an explanation. This quality is what artists seek to find: The Mona Lisa smile quality that brings the viewer back for a closer look, seeking an explanation or understanding.

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Tom Phardel, “Inner Mountain” 2016 Ceramic

Here, with Inner Mountain, we are presented with a clay object thrown on a wheel with a clay object inside. Within this interior mound, there is an indentation of two circles, what this viewer might consider an infinity symbol. This object presents questions: Is it stoneware with a crackle glaze or raku, as the darkened edge suggests, and how many artists are making sculpture that incorporates wheel-thrown forms? There are ceramic artists that have used wheel thrown forms, but Phardel goes beyond that. We know Mr. Phardel has been the Chairperson of Ceramics at the Center for Creative Studies since 1988 and oversees the philosophy of clay-made forms, and now we know why. He demonstrates that we are not limited by the material and its conventional use.

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Tom Phardel, “Union of Two Points” 2016, Ceramic, granite, glass

In The Union of Two Points, Phardel gives us an object that feels spiritual, as it rests on these two pieces of steel (looks like wood) that act as a base. It seems to this viewer that he is using a router to indent the granite in a precise and uniform way. The clay object in a circular indentation creates the illusion that it is levitating. Again, a meditative and spiritual piece of three-dimensional artwork so new in its form, we are left to contemplate the careful selection of material and execution.

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Tom Phardel, Tea Wisk & Bolder – “Whispers from the Rock” 2016 Steel, glass & gold leaf

Above is the large and overwhelming sculpture, Tea Wisk & Boulder – “Whispers from the Rock,” in which the combination of materials and how they are used is unbelievably inspiring. Mr. Phardel must have spent some time in Far East countries where a small Tea Wisk is commonplace, and he internalized the form and made it his own, not from bamboo, but many times larger and fabricated in stainless steel. What we experience is a face-off between the Tea Wisk and the large stone boulder, only to be moderated by a small vertical opening in the large inch-thick square of plate glass.

In this exhibition of three -dimensional art, Mr. Phardel distills form to its core essence and presents a hidden interior that gives way to the love of making original objects. All great literature, music, dance and visual art appeal to people when they bring their experience to the art form, and this is where Phardel succeeds. Phardel’s focus on meditative and contemplative form separates his work from many artists who work in three-dimension, not just in the Detroit metro area, but also in the world at large. If there is a time when an artist arrives at a place where his or her work demands greater attention, I would say that time has come for Tom Phardel.

If the Detroit Institute of Arts had a contemporary curator, they would, or should be all over this exhibition.

Simone DeSousa Gallery

 

Sensuous Memento @ the River House Arts

Mori Megan Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius, & Sharyn O’Mara – Hush.ex Exhibition at River House Arts, Toledo, Ohio

There are exciting things happening at the Toledo Art Museum, the University of Toledo, and the gestating organization that will soon be on everyone’s radar, Contemporary Art Toledo, this September. Contemporary Art Toledo, the brainchild of Brian Carpenter (lecturer and gallery director at the University of Toledo) and Paula Baldoni (director of River House Arts Space) is currently based in the gorgeous River House Arts Gallery in downtown Toledo. Hush.ex features the work of four artists whose common thread begins with the historically and regionally loaded medium of glass.

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River House Arts, Hush-ex, Installation, All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Once upon a time, glass production was a massive industry in Toledo. Its status as a serious craft has passed out of our cultural consciousness, much as other craft-oriented industries that once anchored Midwestern economies have shifted locus or become altogether obsolete. Toledo, however, has preserved its status as “The Glass City” through a symbiotic relationship between industry, education, and fine art that has guided glass craft through industrial decline, out of factories and into studios, ultimately accumulating an incredible collection of glass art (initially through the patronage of Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey, founders of both Owens Corning Glass Manufacturing and the Toledo Museum).

The artists of Hush.ex (all of whom teach in the Glass Program at Tyler School of Art, Temple University) engage with the historicity and mundanity of this medium that permeates our lives at almost every moment without making its presence felt. The work illuminates that very mundanity, and uses it to begin a dialog about the things we touch, use, and interact with daily, and how quietly loaded with history, both emotional and indexical, this slippery, medium-bridging material is.

Glass is a substance that we live with and touch frequently as part of our daily life. We open windows, handle drinking glasses and plates, navigate touchscreens. We know what glass feels like. And, if you’ve ever been a child surreptitiously handling a weighty, faceted objet de art or a precious piece of porcelain, you know that glass feels good. It’s a crafted substance that invites direct interaction in every way. It’s almost an extension of our bodies, and it’s certainly played a major role, historically, in preserving our experiences in sensuous, precious, yet powerful cartouches. The artists featured in Hush.ex tap directly into that sensuous, indexical role glass possesses (to a maddening degree- I’ve never felt a stronger desire to touch works of art in an exhibition).

Amber Cowan’s turgid glass sculptures channel both mid-century gewgaws and the horror vacui principle of nature to craft strangely familiar, subversively scaled vessels and wall pieces that burst with an uncanny appropriation of organic growth and mind-numbing decorative beauty. Her works bear such titles as “Wedding Compote with Thorny Vine,” and “Candle Stick.”

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Amber Cowan, Rosette Milk & Ivory flame worked pressed & sheet glass, mixed-media

The works of Jessica Jane Julius dialog with mundane objects of a very different order- the ephemeral static and digital flickerings that glass bears into our environment via television and smartphone screens. The buzzy surfaces and odd static/dynamic quality of her installations speak to the mercurial loyalties of glass, as an almost magical medium between our reality and pure, abstracted information.

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Jessica Jane Julius, Extruded hot pulled & kiln cast glass, metal – 2016

The theme of glass as a vessel for memory brought uncannily into real space is most directly engaged by Sharyn O’Mara, whose pressed glass burnout drawings most directly reference Nineteenth Century memento mori keepsakes. Such objects were meant to preserve a physical trace of a deceased loved one available for viewing through impenetrable glass. Through an intense process of compressing objects between panes of glass and firing them into carbonized fossils, O’Amara has preserved, among other keepsakes, tufts of hair from beloved dogs that caramelize in their pressed glass coffins into delicate, snowflake-like strata of tangled tendrils that reference lovely, closely observed charcoal drawings.

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Sharyn Omara, Botanical 4-carbon burnout drawing on glass, 2016

Megan Biddle’s sculptures also invoke drawing, taken off the wall into three dimensional collisions of line and material. Again, there is a reference to preservation and enclosure here- her home appliance scaled sculpture “Converge” occupies a corner of the gallery like an old-timey television set, transmitting a quiet meditation on converging, geometric lines rather than moving bites of information.

The overarching theme of preservation of historical, beloved objects and memories within this medium that feels simultaneously earthy and ephemeral, tactile and fragile, inviting and forbidding to touch.

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Jessica Jane Julius, Static puddle hot pulled & kiln fused glass, 2016

Hush.ex coalesces into an incredible synesthesia of memory, digital ephemera, and physical preservation all encompassed, like Snow White, in a sensual and impenetrable glass coffin. There’s much potential for touchstones of communication in this medium that feels simultaneously earthy and ephemeral, tactile and fragile, inviting and forbidding to touch.

It’s the rare medium that straddles craft, fine art, and daily life on such equal footing. Hush.ex both awakens the viewer to sensual beauty, and stands as a reminder that such beauty is all around, within grasp, at all times.

Hush.ex is on view at River House Arts in Toledo, Ohio, September 15 through October 31, 2016

River House Arts

Colnaghi @ Wasserman Projects

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Frans Francken, Feast of the Gods, Oil on Panel – A landscape with Theseus and Achelous, with the Triumph of Poseidon and Amphitrite beyond Frans Francken the Younger / Antwerp, 1581 – Antwerp, 1642 Joos de Momper the Younger / Antwerp, 1564 – Antwerp, 1635 Signed lower left :Dᴼ FFRANCK. IN.E.F. Oil on panel, 72 x 157 cm. (28 ½ x 61 ¾ in.)

The Wasserman Projects opened a new exhibition, Old Masters / New World from the Colnaghi Gallery of London, for a limited time, September 7-11, 2016. The work includes major painting and sculpture by such artists as Frans Francken, Gaetano Gandolfi, Jusepe de Ribera, and Pedro Duque y Cornejo.

Gary Wasserman, Founder of Wasserman Projects says, “We share Colnaghi’s vision to connect the historic with the contemporary, and to show art in a diversity of contexts and through a wide range of collaborations. To be able to show these tremendous Old Master works in the contemporary, industrial-style setting of our exhibition space is an exciting proposition that highlights the connection between the past and present and offers a new way of experiencing both the art and the space.”

If you look at the trajectory of Wasserman Projects, set in a former firehouse in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market, the work on exhibition there has been contemporary and at times conceptual. The gallery works with artists from across disciplines and around the world, presenting exhibitions and performances that spark a discourse on art, but also cultural, social, or political issues, which are particularly active and timely in Detroit.

In attendance for this opening was Jorge Coll, CEO of Colnaghi, “We are thrilled to build on our long and storied history in America by holding our first exhibition in Detroit, and to be doing so in partnership within many of the greatest American museums and collections, including ones in this city. It is in this spirit of engaging new and existing communities of arts enthusiasts and collectors that we are holding Old Masters / New World in Detroit. We see our vision to present Old Master works across a wide range of locales as parallel to the missions of museums and universities to educate on the arts.”

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Fray Juan Bautista Maíno “The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist” Pastrana, 1581 – Madrid, 1649, Oil on Canvas 110.5cm x 92.5cm

The painting, The Holy Family, reminds this writer of how popular it was in the 14th through 16th centuries to paint the Madonna and Child. Here, the artist Stozzi,  includes Joseph, the husband of Mary, and the young child Jesus, reminding us of the age difference, and provides the audience with a direct and comforting look from the mother. When I first read and studied the work of Giovanni Bellini, it was amazing how many paintings he made of Madonna & Child. People of wealth during these times, would commission a painting for their home, and because Catholicism was the dominate religion, there was nothing more pure and sacred than this image. One gets the impression there was tremendous status in having such a painting in their home. So the answer to the question is that it was very lucrative for artists to make so many of these paintings. The only question raised here is who is the child at the bottom of the painting who draws the attention of both Jesus and Joseph with the halo? The answer is his cousin, John the Baptist.

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Giacomo Ceruti, Kitchen Still Life, 84 X 118 cm, Milan, 1698 – 1767

Still life paintings were popular during this time period. In Kitchen Still Life, the painter Giacomo Deriti produces a classic realistic composition that easily sets the stage for painters to come a century later. These near photo realistic images (before the invention of photography) are composed and lit, which provides the artist with an unlimited amount of time to compose, draw, under-paint, and add reflective details. Elements of illusion are magnified by having the knives come off the front edge of the table, while at the same time create a balance of shape and form with the light source coming from the upper left.

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Juan van der Hamen y Leon, Abraham and the Three Angles, 279 X 181cm, Madrid 1596-1631

The Spanish painter, Juan van der Hamen, was born in Madrid in 1596 and was recognized for his allegories and landscapes during the Baroque period. A prolific artist, van der Hamen painted all his works during the first decade of the reign of Philip IV. As a religious painter Hamen worked for several religious institutions in and around Madrid and Toledo, like the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales, in Madrid, for which he painted altars. The best surviving examples of his religious work are in the cloister of the Royal Convent of La Encarnación in Madrid, painted in 1625 in a naturalistic tenebristic style. The painting Abraham and the Three Angels is known for the stylistic characteristics and the iconographic interest of the scene, by which the artist interpreted the Biblical theme of the apparition of the three angels in the house of Abraham to announce that Sara would conceive a son.

So why is it important for young people today to experience this work, both in galleries and museums? Let me start by saying that many things that are part of human history continue to enrich our lives: Mathematics, Philosophy, Literature, Music and certainly Art. Do we not still listen to Bach and derive meaning that connects us to all music, and can we not still relate to the allegory in Dante’s Divine Comedy? For Wasserman Projects to bring this experience to Detroit creates the opportunity to expose Italian and Spanish Renaissance Painting to an audience that may not have thought of the connection that all art shares.

Wasserman Projects demonstrates that it is guided by a spirit of collaboration, recognizing that art is best realized and most meaningful when it engages the broad range of people such as the dynamic and diverse population of Detroit.

Wasserman Projects, September 2016