The first and the last impression made by the exhibition "Two Brothers - Two Profiles: Ira and Len Upin" at Projects Gallery is how many of its artworks intrude on one's private life. Unlike much artistry, these don't merely exist objectively, to be admired or discussed. Rather, like wonder-working images, they also carry unforgettable overtones of mysterious power owing to the peculiarly vitalistic friction they give off. It's a form of nonverbal expression the brothers share, and it seems a good reason for linking them here.
Ira Upin, a former athlete and one of the sturdier artistic temperaments around Philadelphia, shows several portraits, plus nine images in his meticulously realistic painting series "Strong Man," which addresses the ins and outs of aging in a society so focused on physical fitness. Bound up with an expressive approach to daily experience, Ira often paints his own likeness into things. This perhaps furthers a process of self-mythologizing, but also lets him compile narrative episodes in "Strong Man" that could be regarded as the hallmark of his art. A single likeness of his wife here is outstanding. And his "Strong Man" series speaks in tones of glamour and success, besides having the energy of being "in progress," with more images to come.
Len Upin is a suburban Chicago art educator whose health issues forced early retirement, enabling his return to full-time art making. He shows large-scale grimacing faces, his own and others', made using broad-line ink drawing as a major medium.
His goal in portraiture seems pure and simple: generate an exciting tension between informality and handling of the ink. The authority with which he absorbs and applies these splendid resources shows him at his best in two large, supple self-portrait torso-up figures, Stroke & Beyond 1 and 2. These have an even sharper claim on our attention than his strange, fearsome, and compelling big-face subjects.
Bryan Willette initiates us into the wonders of stained-glass art's visual richness in his solo show at 11-year-old B Square Gallery on South Ninth. The event illuminates what the Merion artist says he does "after Franz Mayer & Company - portraits in the style of the great Bavarian glass studios" of the first half of the 20th century. Willette genuflects before this tradition, following closely in the footsteps of earlier practitioners.
Stained-glass windows in the style of church windows produced in Bavaria in the late 18th century, he says, are still in demand. And Willette shows here that it's possible to meet those demands with a high degree of artistry. We appreciate seeing what's still being produced traditionally, especially since this work goes beyond quiet competence. Meanwhile, we await future shows emphasizing creativity and experimentation in this too often overlooked medium. Willette himself works for Beyer Studio.
Beauty in Bucks
Myles Cavanaugh, exhibiting 25 recent oil landscapes in his solo "Places and Times to Remember" at the Silverman Gallery of Bucks County Impressionism in Buckingham, is one of only four painters this gallery currently represents exclusively under a one-year contract dating from its opening in March. Unusual? Yes.
It's Herman Silverman's first art gallery, founded in response to local artists telling him about their wants and needs. Thirty years ago he caused a stir by successfully barnstorming for the idea that Doylestown's old jail be transformed into the James A. Michener Art Museum, named after the author, Silverman's friend and a Doylestown native. Silverman, founder of Sylvan Pools, was also a force for launching the Bucks County Artmobile, a thriving gallery-on-wheels for teaching children, begun more than 40 years ago.
Now he brings us Cavanaugh's large and small oils, evoking appealingly old-fashioned feelings about particular rural scenes and town views in and around New Hope and Lambertville, the young artist's hometown. And although Cavanaugh likes to capture late-afternoon light, best in this show are several misty downtown Lambertville snow scenes. Railroad Crossing and Snow Fall on the Towpath have a vibrant strength that flows through them like breath.