Besides such giants of pop art as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, few other artists have taken more inspiration from popular culture than the self-taught, a fact made abundantly clear by Fleisher/Ollman Gallery's exuberant summer show "Measurably Long Kool," which features works on paper by 12 such artists.
Organized by gallery director Alex Baker, the show borrows its title from the most obviously pop culture-derived work in the show, Eddie Arning's colorful, graphic Cray-pas riff on a Kool cigarette magazine advertisement from 1970 in which a pack of the cigarettes is displayed in front of a sublime, northern-looking landscape backdrop of mountains, trees, and a river zigzagging through it. Arning added his own invention, planting a monochromatic, minimal wedge of green on the left side of his drawing and separating it from the landscape by a greatly elongated, diagonally positioned cigarette. On the green triangle, Arning wrote "Measurably Long Kool" in his distinctive capital letters; at the bottom of his drawing, he wrote the Kool advertising slogan, "Come All the Way Up to Kool Filter Longs." It's his personal tribute to Kool - an image that's half-representational, half-abstract, and wonderfully off-kilter.
Julian Martin finds his emblematic images in magazines and art-history books, but his pastel-on-paper drawings suggest ancient roots. His repertoire here, though, recalls Paul Feeley's meditative abstract paintings of the early 1960s crossed with Keith Haring's symbolic figures of the 1980s. Baker has smartly turned over an entire wall to Martin's curious, Popsicle-color pastels.
Many self-taught artists, typically not having had access to or experience with expensive art materials, have made remarkable use of materials more common to pop culture than to the fine arts: ballpoint pens, crayons, markers, and the like.
In the case of James Castle, soot, saliva, colored crepe-tissue paper, and brown paper bags got the job done exquisitely. Castle's untitled crayon-on-cardboard drawing of a boy in a green suit standing next to a white shape reminiscent of a small Christmas tree is a charming example of his ingenuity. John Patrick McKenzie's photocopied fan photograph of Neil Diamond takes up but a small part of his work on paper, "Neil Diamond likes Politics (Neil Diamond)," on which he has written a seemingly obsessively motivated list of the singer's likes in a teetering column in black marker.
Two artists in Baker's show have Philadelphia connections.
Inez Nathaniel Walker came to this city in the 1930s during the Great Migration (she left Philadelphia in 1949 and moved to Upstate New York) and began drawing while in prison. Margaret Brown made and sold her watercolors in Rittenhouse Square in the 1970s and '80s. Walker's large portraits, rendered in simple lines, capture the looks and styles of her neighbors. Brown's watercolor renderings of angels, oil lamps, and a birdbath hint at a religious fervor.
"Measurably Long Kool" also features works by Felipe Jesus Consalvos, Andrew Herman, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Bill Traylor, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, and Agatha Wojciechowsky.
Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1216 Arch St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (summer hours). 215-545-7562 or www.fleisher-ollman.com. Through Aug. 26.
The Print and Picture Collection at the Free Library's Parkway Central Library can always be counted on for out-of-the-ordinary exhibitions. Its latest, "Fur and Feathers: A Cautious Pairing of Cats and Birds," of works by 37 artists selected by the collection's curator, Laura Stroffolino, is no exception.
Images of felines take up one wall of the hallway, avians the other, and all are realized as prints or photographs.
Robert J Salgado's photographic portrait of a cat, taken in Mexico City in 1969, perfectly captures the mysterious allure of cats, while Jacques Hnizdovsky's woodcut Cat, from 1968, turns a fat tabby into a Bridget Riley stripe painting of sorts.
Two of the more amusing cat representations are Eadweard Muybridge's motion study of a cat, a collotype from 1887, titled "Cat trotting, changing to a gallop" and Peter Moran's 1877 engraving, Cat Feigning Death, showing a cat hanging upside down from a rafter, with a gathering of mystified mice and rats on the floor beneath it.
Of the birds, the two standouts are the most graphic images, Gordon Deacon's gorgeous color woodcut Toucans, circa 1940, and Richard Hood's 1954 serigraph Young Owl, both of which make the most of their subjects' respective idiosyncratic physiognomies.
Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library, Print and Picture Collection, Hallway Gallery, 2nd Floor, 1901 Vine St., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. 215-686-5405 or email@example.com. Through Sept. 9.