Jan Baltzell's recent abstract paintings at Schmidt Dean Gallery show her experimenting with gesture and color and pushing both to more dramatic effect than in the paintings of her last show here. The soft, muted greens, pale violets, and grays common to those works of a few years ago, which suggested meandering walks through the Wissahickon woods in early spring, have been revved up with riotous de Kooning-esque oranges, pinks, and yellows, while her linear brushstrokes now loop, twist, and swerve as if tracking the movements of ecstatic dancers.
Having previously only seen Baltzell's paintings on Mylar, itself a muted, translucent material (and which Baltzell has again employed for most of the works in this show), I was excited to see her color and painterly brushwork transposed to a stretched canvas support for the first time in her show's two large-scale paintings.
With more room to spread out, she has been able to evoke a sense of motion between deep space and shallow space and between her lines and passages of color. Also, by working into white paint atop a white gessoed background (as de Kooning and others have done), she's made more of the possibilities of oil paint — varying its consistency from transparent to opaque and its textures from smooth to drippy to smeared and smudged — and her colors have more clarity against that white.
I'm not always in favor of titles, but Untitled seems too generic for poetic, expressionistic works like these. And Baltzell's palette and compositions are so clearly related to each other that titles could help to refine their individuality. The exception would be the show's two very small, exquisite paintings on Mylar, whose compact vertical gestures are reminiscent of Japanese ink drawings. They're too Zen for words.
Schmidt Dean Gallery, 1710 Chestnut St., 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-569-9433 or www.schmidtdean.com. Through Saturday.
Sculpture as GPS
Somehow it's not surprising that Projects Gallery would offer a solo show to a Miami-based, Cuban-born artist. Projects has a longtime interest in contemporary Latin American and Caribbean art, has operated a Miami outpost since November 2010, and has participated in Miami art fairs since 2005. Moreover, the artist in question, Alejandro Mendoza, has a reputation — not just for his own art, but for having served as curator of "Giants in the City," a large-scale inflatable project developed for Art Basel Miami in 2009.
What is surprising is that delicate, carefully crafted sculpture of this kind has found a place for itself in a sculpture world dominated by helter-skelter installation and awesomely big pieces.
Mendoza's intimate sculptures about his search for a sense of place have much in common with painting. Solitary trees and houses sit isolated on shelves, like shimmering dreams of refuge. Dali's surreal landscapes come to mind, as do contemporary paintings by Peter Doig.
Projects Gallery, 629 N. 2nd St., 12 to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. 267-303-9652 or www.projectsgallery.com. Through Saturday.
2 friends join at show
Two longtime friends long known to the Philadelphia art scene — Keith Ragone, a painter, and Jack Larimore, a furniture-maker-turned sculptor, are paired in a show at Snyderman-Works Gallery.
Using colors inspired by the salt marshes and estuaries near his home in Cumberland County, N.J., Ragone has made a series of abstract paintings that seems to capture the quality of light on a particular day, at a particular time. The most evocative of these paintings are the most atmospheric ones, such as Cat Feet and Sea Smoke, both of which immediately suggest the experience of being in a fog-shrouded landscape. Ragone is also showing a group of transcendently beautiful watercolors, whose simple strokes of transparent color are like trails of clouds.
In his first one-person exhibition of his sculptures, Larimore displays his acute eye for the anthropomorphic qualities of wood — especially ones that reference the humorous and the erotic. Often, Larimore will place a small, delicate handmade object such as a pair of tiny sculpted hands or a curvaceous blown-glass beaker inside a larger, carved wood form, as if the smaller object is the soul of the wood.
His transformations of found and salvaged wood, cast glass, and other materials are winsome, tongue-in-cheek (check out his randy version of Brancusi's The Kiss) and utterly American.