Summer has started early, judging from the number of group shows already under way in Philadelphia galleries. Nature, rendered in almost every form imaginable, is the chief subject.
Sienna Freeman, Wexler Gallery’s director and an artist herself, is the curator behind Wexler’s “Wild Nature,” a gathering of four artists from across the country and Canada who envision nature through the lens of memory, dreams, and natural-history museum dioramas.
Curiously, while the majority of works are dark or disturbing in character, they are mainly white or pale in color.
Jennifer Trask’s wearable and wall-mounted assemblages of animal bones, found objects, precious metals, and stones give the impression of talismans that draw their magical power from nature; Andy Paiko’s ornate blown-glass bell jars enclosing natural objects — one contains a coyote spine — seem to harness nature’s mysterious forces as well, but also clearly reference the Victorian fascination with collecting.
The Victorian era is also evoked by Julie Anne Mann’s drawings of anthropomorphically exaggerated tree roots in silver leaf on large cross-sections of burl wood. Each delicately drawn tree image is eerily human and luminescent against its wood backdrop.
Made of porcelain or resin painted white, Christy Langer’s lifelike sculptures of snakes, birds, and horses look like the archetypal creatures humans encounter in dreams or fairy tales suddenly frozen or taxidermied for a museum display, with all of their remembered strangeness intact.
Wexler Gallery, 201 N. 3rd St., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-923-7030 or www.wexlergallery.com. Through June 30.
The whimsical drawings that make up Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art’s three-person show “Organon” investigate the biological circumstances that surround us and make us — or threaten to make us — who we are.
Alana Bograd’s small pencil drawings of voluptuous creatures that are part-human, part-plant could be a surrealist’s doodles but also seem to have Hollywood horror-flick forebears.
Colin Keefe’s complex, maplike compositions of cities in ink suggest an ongoing organic urban development that is constantly in flux, simultaneously expanding and degrading.
Sarah Laing’s enormous ink drawings depict tall forms that resemble corn or canna plants whose leaves are about to unfurl, but the exposed interiors of their stalks teem with various mutating human and insect parts. Genetic engineering may not be Laing’s inspiration, but it’s hard not to contemplate its potential downsides in these drawings.
Rebekah Templeton Contempory Art, 173 W. Girard Ave., 12 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. 267-519-3884 or www.rebekahtempleton.com. Through Saturday.
Not just an artist, but a curator, too, Alana Bograd has organized a nonmember show, “Peep, A Curious Look Into Painting,” for the artists’ collective Little Berlin, of which she is a member.
Most of the paintings here are modestly scaled and their quasi-representational imagery is deliberately obscure (there is almost no abstraction). Bograd chose works by 15 artists she admires, many of whom she has never met, from various parts of the United States. Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia are represented, as well as Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Some of the more winsome paintings include Marybeth Chew’s Aunt Marisha and Family, Matt Savitsky’s Untitled Corpse, Farrell Brickhouse’s Reveler’s July (Paintings to Celebrate the Passage of the Marriage Equality Act), and Ben Will’s 2144.11.024.
Catch “Peep” by Wednesday.
Little Berlin, 2430 Coral St., 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays or by appointment. firstname.lastname@example.org. Through Wednesday.
Tom Steigerwald, a Philadelphia-born, formerly Elkins Park-based graduate of Temple’s Tyler School of Fine Art who died in June 2011, is being fondly remembered at Chestnut Hill Gallery in a solo show of his dramatic trompe l’oeil paintings of flowering plants blown up to to Little Shop of Horrors scale. Steigerwald, an avid gardener, would cut large pieces of masonite to suit a particular botanical subject’s contours and then paint that flowering plant or vine on its requisite shape.
This show could have easily done with fewer paintings — one Steigerwald can command an entire wall — and the large expressionistic portrait of the late artist by his friend, the perennially chronicled painter Chuck Connelly, displayed on an easel front and center in the gallery, could have been given a less conspicuous place. It’s nice to see Steigerwald’s exuberant, unaffected paintings together in a solo show, in any case.
Chestnut Hill Gallery, 8117 Germantown Ave., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 215-248-2549 or www.chestnuthillgallery.com . Through Saturday.