Colorful realist painting was everywhere in New York in the 1980s and 1990s — works by Janet Fish and Neil Welliver come to mind — and few artists used color with such an obvious sense of joy and abandon as Philadelphia native John Laub. More often than not, Laub’s combinations of high-key colors gave his paintings a Technicolor quality, each of his colors radiating the same extreme vividness.
A little more than a decade since his death in 2005 from leukemia, Laub is being affectionately remembered in an exhibition at the Woodmere Art Museum, “The Journeys of John Laub: Fire Island and Beyond.”
As the first museum survey of his paintings, it offers a window onto his personal life and explains his working methods. Laub was a gay man who spent much of his career in New York during the AIDS crisis and left behind a partner of many years, Bruce C. Kingsley, who lent most of the works in the show. As a plein-air artist, Laub worked almost exclusively outdoors, in all kinds of weather, and used only six tubes of oil paint: ultramarine blue, manganese blue, rose madder deep, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow light, and titanium white.
He was born in Philadelphia in 1947 and graduated from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) with a degree in graphic design. He then briefly studied at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.
Laub had his first solo exhibition in Philadelphia in 1974, at the Philadelphia Art Alliance. In 1984, with several more local shows under his belt, he moved to New York, eventually signing on with the Fischbach Gallery, where he had five solo exhibitions, the last two of them posthumous.
An AIDS activist who supervised the AIDS hotline of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Laub learned in 1989 he had contracted HIV. Despite his diagnosis, he continued to paint his rapturously vivid landscape scenes.
He worked wherever he traveled, and he traveled frequently. Besides regular summer visits to Fire Island, he painted in Arizona, Miami, France, Maine, and New York’s Central Park, among other places. If anything, his paintings seemed to become even more celebratory, judging from this exhibition composed mainly of paintings dating from the late 1980s and 1990s.
Some of the exhibition’s most successful paintings aren’t the obvious “eye-catchers.” They include his lovely, slightly subdued (by Laub standards) painting of a cafe in Paris’ Tuileries Garden, Tuileries Café, from 1998, and a 1997 still life (he rarely worked indoors) of a vase of flowers on a table, Flowers, "100 Million in Sales’ Party" at Serono. There are a couple of very minor works here, too, that should not have been included.
Still, when his big, unabashed canvases are right on the nose, as they often are, they’re irresistible. Tahiti Garden (1999), capturing a garden on Fire Island in all its extravagant summer lushness, is one of those.
Through Aug. 13 at Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $10 ($7 for seniors, free for children and for students with ID. Free admission Sundays. Information: 215-247-0476 or www.woodmereartmuseum.org.
Interior miniatures and the great urban outdoors
Lynne Clibanoff’s miniature wood reconstructions of architectural interiors and Amze Emmons’ modest paintings of mystery-tinged urban sites go perfectly together in the Gershman Gallery’s latest show, organized for the Gershman by Dolan/Maxwell, which represents both artists.
Clibanoff’s structures, dating from 2010 to 2017 and mounted on sculpture pedestals throughout the gallery, offer inside views of rooms of places where she has worked, such as the print studio at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation, or visited, including the crypt-turned-exhibition space in the Marino Marini Museum, a former church, in Florence. I’m always struck by the silence Clibanoff’s works encompass.
All of the sites Emmons depicted in his gouache and acrylic paintings (plus graphite and color pencil) look like forlorn places you’ve passed by without carefully scrutinizing. But you recognize them instantly in his paintings, even when he presents them out of the expected context, such as an isolated trash receptacle or a row of bus-stop seating.
Clibanoff seems the romantic, hopeful one here; Emmons the existentialist.
Through Aug. 27 at Gershman Gallery, Gershman Y, 401 S. Broad St., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Information: 215-545-4400 or www.gershmany.org.
A watercolor stalwart and her unsung teacher
Elizabeth Osborne, whose small survey of watercolor paintings from the last five decades may still be up at Locks Gallery when you read this (it closes May 6), has organized a tribute at Cerulean Arts to her late teacher and friend Jimmy Lueders, a somewhat unsung painter and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts painting instructor of many years.
His influence on Osborne and his other students isn’t necessarily visible in the Cerulean exhibition of Lueders' paintings and those by Stephen Estock, Charles Kalick, Bruce Samuelson, and Susan Van Campen, except through a mood of solemnity. Lueders' 1955 painting of City Hall as seen from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is a haunting image, reminiscent of Edvard Munch and Ludwig Bemelmans.
Elizabeth Osborne through May 6 at Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Information: 215-629-1000 or www.locksgallery.com.
"Jimmy Lueders and Friends" through May 20 at Cerulean Arts, 1355 Ridge Ave., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Information: 267-514-8647 or www.ceruleanarts.com.