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Exhibition Essay
July 23, 2021

Chiaroscuro Spring: Regenerative Growth From the Depths of Obscurity

Author
Ellie Ebby

Chiaroscuro Spring captures the joyous opportunity for regrowth that spring, now more than ever, presents as a distinctly hopeful warm emergence from what has felt like a year-long desolate winter. Running from May 22 to October 2 at Park Towne Place, Chiaroscuro Spring unleashes a tale of new beginnings and sensational regenerations, concocting a reassurance that life fortifies its roots in even the most unwelcome of conditions. In time with the current reopening of cultural spaces across the country, a lively conversation between the works of Anita Allyn, Marilyn Holsing, Sam Nejati, Heather Ossandon, Laurie Beck Peterson, Rebecca Saylor Sack, and Jacqueline Yvonne radiates within the dramatic contrast between delicacy and resilience- where illumination emanates tenderly against the callousness of fading darkness.
Drifting between each piece, the exhibition builds upon an intricate tension that moves viewers forward into an explorative world of unknown and exciting narrative, beginning with Marilyn Holsing’s Table Tableau and Natural History. Holsing’s utilization of diorama form births a microcosm that is sprouting with life and dynamic in depth. Table Tableau is composed of multiple layers in which the vibrance of growing vines destabilizes the motionless stance of its table foundation. Holsing’s watercolors also anthropomorphize landscape into fantastical context as Landscape Between Two Seas, Landscape With Water, and Landscape With Leak cultivate plants from settings without clear beginnings or endings. Branching into a similar imaginative territory, Jacqueline Yvonne’s Angel Came Back When I Scraped My Knee, Blue, and When I finally Make It Home awaken barren pieces of wood with a patient and sanguine nod to a resurging vitality as intimately specific possessions, including flowing fringe and sprouting beads, forge a spirited home despite the wood’s darkened crevices.
Capturing the essence of light that comes out of dark in a more literal, yet powerfully atmospheric lens, the cyanotypes of Laurie Beck Peterson embody the light that peeks through the trees of a dense forest, spawning a tone of nostalgia and brighter comings as if a glimpse into the horizon. The piece Tagged holds a rather ominous presence, as the doomed trees remind that their time is fleeting. The cyanotype print medium itself is historically understood as a means of permanent documentation dating back to the 19th century, however, as Beck Peterson transfers images of a past Schuylkill landscape onto the surfaces of vestigial tree stumps, these trees are given a second life via the unpredictable results of cyanotype chemicals and Prussian blue markings continuing to interact with the wood.
Rebecca Saylor Sack’s The horse, antler and deer, a modern vanitas, embarks on a journey of captivating color while also paying tribute to the theme of fleeting life as flowers overlap decaying bones. The piece welcomes a sense of fluidity in its impressionist-like stirring clouds, forming a backdrop for flowers that actively fold, droop, sprout, tangle, darken, glow, and collectively envelop their surrounding. Sack’s Crocodile, peonies and the baboon, and Skull Pile similarly embellish animal remains with overgrowing and vibrant color.
Heather Ossandon’s ceramic still life collection including Pair of Pears I, Dinner with Snails, and Bread and Cheese revolutionizes the placidity and certainty of still life with the suggestion of reverberant motion, as leaning pears are encased in glass and scrawling snails overlap a careful patterning of resting domestic objects including bottles, lemons, and bread. Performing an active deconstruction of its own, Ossandon’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow Part II appears as a still life that is anything but still. Instead, it is anticipating, broken, fenced in, and emerging from artificially green AstroTurf. While the title references Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the picnic layout of the scene can be read as a play on Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, which includes a similarly disheveled still life in the foreground. While Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe was controversial for its untraditional composition centered on a nude model returning the audience’s gaze, there is also a uniquely raw depiction of physical being in Ossandon’s handcrafted sculptures as they characterize life taking form within an always changing body. It is as if the individual pieces that make up Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow Part II and Pair of Pears I push back against the idea of containment, diverging upwards and outwards towards a beautiful state of transition.
To further establish unlimited growth, Anita Allyn’s Photosynthetics series extends beyond the frames of each satin and aluminum print and effectively captures the consuming act of photosynthesis. The contrast between the textured plants and their shadowed backgrounds mimics a dimensionality that is often attributed to three-dimensional sculpture. These plants, enlivened with an outreaching visuality, mirror the reclamation of space that occurs in Yvonne’s Heirloom as plants of wire and amethyst beads burst out of a single fractured branch. As the title Heirloom suggests, the sculpture resembles a vessel for human sentiment that is unphased by mortality.
Sam Nejati’s inviting paintings, saturated in cool tones and ephemeral light, encourage spiritual movement somewhere beyond the material realm of the canvas. Both Gaze and Sanctum enrapture the viewer in the pressure between uplifting highlights and heavy shadows as well as the pressure resulting from diverging viewpoints and angles that shift between interior and exterior spaces. In the instance of Pergola of Salvation, the painting’s use of perspective beckons viewers through an archway and into another world, attaching a spiritual and transporting quality to the work.
Together, the pieces of Chiaroscuro Spring remind us that however mystifying the act of perseverance may feel, there is a consistency to be found in its unwavering beauty. The exhibition will be flourishing throughout the tower galleries of Park Towne Place until October 2, 2021.
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