Joyce Robins' painted ceramic works are as much painting and sculpture as they are ceramics.
One of a group that art critic John Perreault dubbed the New York School of Ceramics - artists who for any number of reasons happened to be working in clay but considered themselves accidental ceramists - Robins was a painter who initially used clay to make foliage for her paintings of abstracted landscapes. At a time when the hard-and-fast rules about what constituted painting and sculpture were being bent and broken by artists like Richard Tuttle, turning clay into sculptural support for paint seemed a natural to Robins.
In Robins' midcareer survey at the University of the Arts' Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, her painted clay pieces spread across a low pedestal like shards from an archaeological excavation (Painted Pieces, 1975); dangle like wind chimes from the ceiling (Hanging Triangles, 1980); and project teasingly from its walls (Lines, 1980-85). Her palette summons similarly broad associations, from children's colored chalks to psychedelic art. Circles are an almost constant motif, as multiple tiny perforations through the clay, or in the shapes of individual pieces, some of which comprise overlapping circles.
In her show's most recent work, Pale Color Square (2011), Robins has created a dense grid of thumb-scale impressions on a square slab of clay and painted the interiors of each impression a color (pink, yellow, orange, turquoise, green, violet). It's at once a clay object and an abstract painting, and as luscious as can be.
Growing up in Ohio, near the childhood home of painter Charles Burchfield, Richard Estell always admired the hallucinatory landscapes of Burchfield's later years.
Estell's own paintings, on view in a show at Cerulean Arts, stem from a similarly personal relationship to nature. Now based in Philadelphia and teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Community College of Philadelphia, and Drexel University, Estell hikes the Wissahickon woods looking for the nature that goes unseen by most passersby, especially things that suggest something else. As isolated by Estell in a painting, the exposed cavity of a tree suggests the interior of a human chest; two empty holes in a broken branch look like the eyes of an alligator, and leaves on a branch have the contours of human faces.
Red Sumac, the one painting that has a distant perspective, transforms a stand of these familiar scarlet-leaved trees into an ecstatic vision reminiscent of Burchfield, but Estell's consciously unorchestrated style - he lets nature be itself - is very much his own.
It has probably never happened before in Philadelphia or elsewhere - one gallery mounts a two-person show and another presents more or less the same show less than a year later - but that is the basic backstory of "Fjord Club Wagon," the current show of paintings by Tim Schwartz and Ian White Williams at Larry Becker Contemporary Art. And Fjord, the up-and-coming Fishtown gallery that came up with the original iteration, "Slow Correspondence," is happy with this development.
As it turns out, the Becker show is slightly different and somewhat larger than its predecessor, but the idea - to illustrate the ongoing dialogue between Schwartz and White, abstract painters who got their undergraduate degrees at Tyler (MFAs elsewhere) and share a Kensington studio - is still very much intact.
Both make modest paintings of a similar small scale and are preoccupied with lightness, quickness, and openness.
In Schwartz's canvases, those qualities can be seen in his emblematic shapes in graphite and thinly applied oil on linen. The black shape that dominates his painting Indefinite 17 (2012) could pass for a girl's skirt or a lampshade, while the looming pale gray rectangle surrounded by a black background in Indefinite 9 (2012) could be a door, a gravestone, or a building. One senses each shape was derived from several things that caught Schwartz's eye.
White is the more painterly of the two, and his pieces' colors and compositions suggest quick glimpses of cityscapes and landscapes.