Friday, July 24, 2009

Helen Cantrell: Rotunda Dreaming

I’m guessing that artists have been featured at the John W. Meagher Rotunda Gallery in City Hall (2nd floor) for years. My excuse for going now and not before is that now, I have a blog! It’s an old building and has that civic administrative feel, so going there is always an interesting experience, and I rarely have a reason to go there. I like the counter-point to the art in this space. Paintings are indicative of civilization and civilizations need government to sustain them. Maybe there are better places to display art, but on the other hand a lot of people pass through the Rotunda so a better cross section see the work than say, at an “art gallery,” where visitors are there specifically for the work or to have a planned for aesthetic experience. Unplanned aesthetic experiences might just be the most aesthetic! Or, something…

Apparently, the city-sponsored showcase features artists who are all Jersey City residents and they change on a monthly basis. Through July is Helen Cantrell. A bio found on the web says she’s “Inspired by “abstract expressionist” painters like Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline and more “realist” modern art like Richard Diebenkorn, Gerhard Richter.”

Funny, I was thinking the same thing. Okay, I don’t remember enough from the scant art history classes I took about a hundred years ago to authoritatively name drop, but the work had a compelling blend of the actual and the abstract. While the images are impressionistic, the colors used were expressionistic, in other words, not the colors one finds in reality of the images depicted. They are deep, emotional colors, vivid yet echoing primitive tones. Her oil paintings, on canvas or board, were on display. I particularly was moved by “Two Girls, Beach,” and “Large Jersey City, Yellow Sky.” The colors—like shadowy, ruddy burgundy on the skin of the kids playing on the beach or the dense royal blue of the smokestacks in the J.C. skyline—express a feeling the artist has. She captures the emotional essence of a moment—right before the essence evaporates, right before the moment ends. You might expect a tension between the real moment and surreal hues, but I picked up on the dreamlike mood induced by the innovative use of color in what otherwise is a universally familiar image. Maybe this life is a dream after all... for a moment, anyway... many moments seem that way, don’t they…


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