Paula Cahill: Progression
On view at Crane Arts through May 28
Cahill’s abstract paintings offer possibility for enjoying formal qualities of line and space while also asking us to think about what progress might mean right now
By Jennifer Zarro
Meandering lines progress atop a field of blue in Paula Cahill’s most recent paintings, eleven examples of which are on view in the Crane Arts tenant gallery through May 28. These abstract paintings feature curvaceous and pulsing lines that either loop back onto themselves or else fall off the edge of the canvas. The blue background is a unique mix of ultramarine, cobalt, and gray oil paint that varies from thick opaque application to thin translucent washes. This effect in particular gives the blue background something of the feel of an old cyanotype; we can see this clearly in a painting such as Closure, 2017. The blue may also be the sea or an expanse of sky. Or maybe it’s something altogether more electric such as a glowing computer screen. All of these associations may be apt, as on this blue surface Cahill paints either white or brightly colored lines which travel across the picture plane just as a fish might swim in a rectangular tank, or as circuitry may, in its mysterious way, travel from one place to another.
In the painting Texts, 2017, we get a sense of this circuitry and networks of communication. The single meandering line here changes over in subtle gradations from teal and lime green to bright yellow that transitions to orange and then to hot pink. The artist noted that some these hues are contemporary and only recently available to painters; the title hints at our most recent form of communication. As in so many of Cahill’s works here, this line begs to be followed. Our eyes move along looking for, and enjoying, the subtle shifts in color. These paintings are participatory.
All of these works are brand new but their evolution is rooted in Cahill’s graduate school studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. There, Professor Bruce Samuelson suggested that Cahill observe fish as a way to practice and prepare for figure painting. After several months of hauling refrigerated, dead fish from home to school to studio, Cahill set up a live tank and began to watch. Fish, it turns out, are something of a bridge between the living world of breath, movement, muscle, skin, and the abstract pictorial world of line, space, plane. Observing the fish swim in their tank resulted in many abstract line drawings which captured the animals’ directions and movements. Cahill describes this as tracking. She drew from observation but was thinking about how line can move into abstraction. During this period, Cahill tracked and recorded everything from the edges of orchids to lines found in a pile of garbage; a basketball dribbled down court was tracked and recorded in a sketch. Eventually the artist began tracking music, recording its moods and rhythms in lyrical line drawings.
Despite these specific origins, the roaming lines in these paintings communicate very little subject matter. Rather, these works are sites of immersive contemplation. The artist describes her painting practice as “mesmerizing”. When the paintings do “tip over into meaning,” as the artist noted, it is only to suggest a possible shape of a fish or the sails of a boat. But these moments are rare. Otherwise, Cahill’s lines and blue surface work in tandem to achieve movement and space, containment and expansion. In some ways this work is akin to flat, abstract Modernism or reminiscent of paintings by Brice Marden. But unlike these predecessors, Cahill’s paintings subtly celebrate and contain depth and space. The artist achieves this by focusing on the contour and direction of the line or by making a shift in the composition. Some of the six smaller gouache paintings on view contain areas similar to the Diebenkorn/Matisse window, suggesting openings onto a space well beyond the picture plane.
Like Texts, the large Closure, 2017, demands close looking. It is composed of a single line that neither begins nor ends but which proceeds around the blue canvas picking up some of the ultramarine/cobalt on its way. We can see the variation in color from white to light blue to a greyish blue which is almost like a shadow. Again, the artist explores space here, making the line recede or jump forward, pulse or dip, travel over or under other lines, and ultimately creates larger, overall shapes that are containers for space.
Closure is just one of the paintings which was born from tracking music. And while these paintings may generally be traced to Cahill’s early investigations of fish and movement, the title of this exhibition and the consideration of progress and progression is a theme of our contemporary social and political moment. During the fall 2016 election season President Obama defined progress as circuitous rather than simply straightforward. Cahill took notice, and the germ of tracking that developed in graduate school was revisited in light of larger, political ideas about progress. In light of this, we can look at these works and enjoy what they may offer as respite, contemplative engagement, and opportunity to explore a painting as the artist who made it may have done. We may also appreciate how the lines here reflect ideas of progress and movement and what that may mean now. We follow Cahill’s lines with this in mind, noticing that while we progress forward we also double back, get into a tangle, pick up new information along the way, or drop off completely, but only to begin again, and again.
Paula Cahill: Progression is on view through May 28 in the main lobby of Crane Arts, across from Indigo Arts Gallery. Hours are Wednesday – Saturday, 12noon to 6pm
For more visit: http://www.cranearts.com/2017/05/paula-cahill-progression/
Arts & Entertainment
Diversity displayed in Tyler exhibit
“Victory for Tyler” is a biennial exhibition that showcases an assortment of Tyler alumni.
by Angela Gervasi 21 April 2015
When speech pathologist and Tyler graduate Paula Cahill was working toward her master’s degree at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she wanted to focus on painting the human figure. Her professors, she said, had an unexpected piece of advice for her.“They told me, ‘If you really want to learn to paint, paint a fish,’” Cahill said. “So I painted a fish.” Several piscine portraits later, Cahill found an interest in not only painting the structure of the fish, but in tracking its movement through the water. A Detroit native who grew up on swimming, boating and watching Jacques Cousteau videos, Cahill said it seemed natural that she developed a passion for marine painting.
Cahill’s recent works have explored both aquatic subject matter and abstract style, which led to “Pink Sharks,” a painting that was featured in Victory for Tyler, an alumni exhibition series, in 2013. “My daughter, who took a high school marketing class always says, ‘Mom, you’re never going to get anywhere. People don’t want pink sharks, sharks aren’t pink in the first place!’” Cahill said. “I just laugh,” she added. Currently, two more of Cahill’s pieces are on display at the Icebox Project Space in the 2015 Victory for Tyler event. A collection of 45 works by 23 alumni will represent Temple’s artistic legacies at the exhibition space on 1400 N. American St. until April 26.
Before moving to Philadelphia, Cahill was not a painter. Her first painting – a still life of blue teacups on a printed cloth – remains in her kitchen, a reminder of the initiation of an art career that happened “later in life.” She visited art schools in the area and finally chose Tyler. Before moving to Philadelphia, Cahill was not a painter. Her first painting – a still life of blue teacups on a printed cloth – remains in her kitchen, a reminder of the initiation of an art career that happened “later in life.” She visited art schools in the area and finally chose Tyler. “I called it my night degree. I did all my homework after they went to bed,” Cahill said, referring to her three children.“I called it my night degree. I did all my homework after they went to bed,” Cahill said, referring to her three children.
Like Cahill, Carmichael Jones, another artist in the new Victory for Tyler alumni exhibition series, didn’t head to Tyler for a degree right away. A native of Chester, Pennsylvania, Jones studied music, photography and glass at several community colleges before attending Tyler in 2009. “I always knew I wanted to pursue art,” Jones said. “I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to college.” Jones became an undergraduate student at 28 when he entered Tyler – Temple is the only four-year university to which he’d ever applied. In 2013, he emerged with a bachelor’s degree in glass, a medium that Jones said is demanding but widely versatile. “It requires your full attention and does not reward the half-hearted,” Jones said.
The exhibition will showcase Jones’s installation, “Can’t you see the world is on fire?” The piece is a thick mass of pink Mongolian faux fur encased in a cerulean-painted wooden frame. “[It] is the culmination of thoughts on joy, grief, existential anxiety, gender and sensory input,” Jones said. “It also comments on the tension between the handmade and the ready-made.”
Molly Clark Davis, the director of alumni relations for Tyler, Boyer College of Music and Dance, the School of Media and Communication and the department of Film and Media Arts, said she finds the diversity of the exhibit noteworthy.“I love that it really represents alumni who graduated 30 years ago and alumni who graduated last May, so it’s really all-inclusive of Tyler,” Clark Davis said.
For Anthony Elms, the juror for this year’s show, working with biennial exhibits is not an unfamiliar prospect. A current associate curator with the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Elms also co-curated the 2014 Whitney Biennial. This exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York has formerly promoted artists as iconic as Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollock. Elms chose 45 works out of 180 submissions from Tyler alumni. “It was my pleasure, because I like having an excuse to look through things and to look over things and to be exposed to new work,” Elms said. “It’s something I actually sometimes feel I have not enough time to do.”
One of the selected 45 works is a creation by Jacqueline Nowakowski, a 2013 graduate who holds a BFA in sculpture and is now a member of the Tyler Alumni Board of Directors.“Being a Tyler alumni and hearing that Anthony Elms was the picked juror for the show, I felt it would be foolish not to apply and give it a shot,” Nowakowski said.Her piece in the exhibit, a silent-video piece titled, “Careless Whisperer,” discusses a year in her childhood when Nowakowski gave up candy for lent, and promptly began an “all day, all night candy binge to the point of becoming physically ill” when Easter arrived. The piece involves candies molded into the shapes of Ken Dolls that Nowakowski owned as a child.
Diversity in the Victory for Tyler show is present not only in its works, but in the stories of the creators. Jones said his art may be misunderstood, but a diverse show like Victory for Tyler provides a platform to learn about his art personally. “If you are going to dedicate your life to making art, I think it’s important to realize that no one is going to understand, as a whole, what you do,” Jones said. “That doesn’t mean you won’t be loved or supported or appreciated, but it does mean that you have to know when to stick to your guns.”
Angela Gervasi can be reached at email@example.com.