Every so often Works on Paper Gallery sheds its somewhat staid personality as a purveyor of prints and drawings by blue-chip contemporary artists, and the change is so abrupt — so seemingly out of nowhere — that it always makes me smile. It turns out that Evan Slepian, the gallery's owner, fell under under the spell of street art four years ago and will probably continue his presentations of urban artists he admires.
The latest to be given the privilege of reinventing the gallery's main space is Then One, an artist, designer, illustrator, and muralist who lives in northern New Jersey. He has transformed the front of the gallery overlooking Walnut Street into a riotous urban landscape that could easily pass for a professional theatrical set.
Sheets of Styrofoam have been painted to resemble cinderblock walls, grass covers the floor (watered by Slepian), and various found objects common to such scenes, such as police barriers, orange traffic cones, battered traffic signs, and hubcaps, complete his vision of urban mayhem. The original Death Wish comes to mind.
Then One is more than an installation artist, though. He is also displaying his paintings, made up of marker-drawn, all-over patterns that recall certain Chicago Imagist painters, and a series of prints depicting a solitary truck as seen from the side, each one decorated with entirely different graffiti that appears to have been handpainted atop the print.
All of Then One's works are fastidiously crafted and of a piece (even when they don't bear the same imagery, they're obviously his) and would stand on their own. I don't think he needs to show them all together, at once, as he is doing here, creating a homogeneous theater-like environment for his art that also happens to be his art.
But it's hard to fault him for going all-out.
Into the woods
Thomas Vance is the latest Philadelphia-area sculptor to have been invited to address the leafy, mysterious beauty of the forest that makes up part of the Abington Art Center's sculpture park. And, as many of its forest forebears do, Vance's contribution, "Forest Murmurs," takes full advantage of a wooded site reached by a meandering path that withholds views of sculptures as long as possible. Some sculptures still take me by surprise here, even though I've seen several of them more than once.
"Forest Murmurs" is the only sculpture in the woods that references modernist design (not surprisingly, many here have a rustic character and are made of wood), and it's also one of the few humorous ones. It's made up of six forms modeled after typical topiary shapes, but rendered in pale aqua-green spray foam over armatures.
The forms occupy their shady clearing under a canopy of trees like a group of friendly aliens — or like the manicured landscape "focal points" that humans are wont to impose on nature.
Colors of summer
Gallery Joe's summer show, "Lighten Up," is smaller than its usual end- of-season roundups, which means visitors to the gallery get a better sense of what the show's artists, Ati Maier, Alexander Paik, and Allyson Strafella, are up to.
The vault gallery is the province of Maier, whose film "Event Horizon" is projected on the back wall and makes you feel as though you are soaring through an outer space of colorful, futuristic images (its animation and sound, by Remi Pawlowski, add to the drama). Maier has four works on paper in the main gallery that feature similarly kaleidoscopic, if less diverting, imagery.
Paik, who's making his first appearance at the gallery (a founding member of the alternative exhibition space Tiger Strikes Asteroid, he will have a solo show at Gallery Joe in October), is showing three of his small geometric paper constructions painted in vibrant colors of gouache. The whimsy and informality of these pieces is endearing.
Strafella's enormous pigmented pulp drawings in which large crescent shapes of red or yellow hover near the top of a solidly black background reminded me slightly of Ellsworth Kelly's abstract paintings at first, but their titles (claw, moustache, cap, billow), which suit those crescent shapes to a T, ask for a literal interpretation.