Even if you didn't know that Jane Irish borrowed the title of her latest show at Locks Gallery, "A Rapid Whirling on the Heel," from Edgar Allan Poe's last major effort, his eccentric 1848 prose poem, Eureka, you might experience a slight sensation of dizziness looking at her paintings, as though these images of opulent rooms were cinematic frames caught morphing into successive frames.
And if you read Poe's poem - presented here in a new book, lavishly illustrated by Irish - you don't doubt that her paintings developed from a process similar to the one Poe proposed to his readers as a means to experience simultaneously the material and spiritual aspects of the universe: "He who from the top of Aetna casts his eyes leisurely around, is affected chiefly by the extent and diversity of the scene. Only by a rapid whirling on his heel could he hope to comprehend the panorama in the sublimity of its oneness."
Irish's visions of interiors of grand houses in France, Italy, and Vietnam have often had a hallucinatory quality, as though she visited them in dreams as well as in person, and these 16 new works seem even more like apparitions or mirages. That's at least partly because she has painted murals on the ceilings of rooms, and it's hard to tell whether such murals are real, partly based on fact, or entirely of poetic license. The ceiling in House of Tan Ky looks more like open sky than a ceiling, Irish's fictive painted constellation of shrimp, deer, fish, and other creatures common to Vietnam notwithstanding.
Khai Dinh Peace Ceiling has the most extraordinary of "ceilings," a chinoiserie-rococo fantasy that appears to begin as a ceiling mural in a palace - likely the Khai Thanh Palace in Vietnam, where the Emperor Khai Dinh is entombed - and then drifts off into the sky. Irish has recreated this particular section of ceiling/sky on an enormous wood panel titled Cosmos that hangs from the gallery ceiling.
Look up and be transported.
Through May 31 at Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Information: 215-629-1000 or locksgallery.com.
Eerie interior spaces
Glen Foerd, the historic house museum and estate on the Delaware River - but still within Philadelphia city limits, in Torresdale - has launched its artist-in-residency program (in partnership with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists) with a series of site-specific sculptures by Lewis Colburn, a Philadelphia artist known for his meticulously crafted, inventive "replicas" of historical objects.
Colburn's "Scenes for Empty Rooms" makes perfect use of the mansion's largely empty rooms by adding what might logically be missing from a drawing room, a conservatory, or a rathskeller. He has also incorporated objects from the collection of Glen Foerd into his sculptures. The difference is that Colburn's sculptures - which began with three-dimensional scans he made of architectural details within the mansion - go on to become uncanny and disquieting.
An Evening, in the drawing room, suggests a man seated in a chair being handed a cup of tea by a woman, but the two human figures are missing most of their bodies. Eerily perfect white urethane casts of legs, an arm, and hands are in all the right places and positions, supported by aluminum armatures that resemble reassembled music stands. A freestanding overhead lamp illuminates this spooky tableau.
Two of Colburn's sculptures look like actual copies of disembodied architectural elements. The Only Extant Copy, in the east conservatory, is an ornate carved wood decoration that might have stood above a door (and may still), isolated on an aluminum stand. Upstairs, in the art gallery, which still displays the paintings collected by the mansion's last owner, Florence Foerderer Tonner, is The Story as We Know It, a carved wood column supported at a dramatic angle by an aluminum frame.
In the shadowy rathskeller, a coffinlike vitrine is filled with real objects redesigned by Colburn, and kid leather gloves and other objects from the collection.
"Scenes for Empty Rooms," on view until April 2017, will be a hard act to follow. But stay tuned for You Myung Gyun's outdoor installation this summer, said to involve the lily pond.
Through April 9, 2017, at Glen Foerd on the Delaware, 5001 Grant Ave., 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tours of the mansion on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, $5; free admission Saturdays, 1:30 to 3 p.m. Information: 215-632-5330 or glenfoerd.org.
Given his current show of abstract paintings at Schmidt/Dean Gallery, Michael Gallagher, a painter and PAFA professor who apparently used to move freely between representation and abstraction, has made the right move. His recent paintings show him exploring extreme compositions and unexpected color combinations that must have been lurking at the back of his meticulous still lifes.
Through May 21 at Schmidt/Dean Gallery, 1719 Chestnut St., 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-569-9433 or schmidtdean.com.