Friday, April 28, 2017



By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Urban Biology – paintings by Betsy Cavalier-Casey and Lizzi Aronhalt  /  at Cyrus Custom Framing and Art Gallery, 2645 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton, Ohio / THROUGH JUNE 2, 2017

  “Both science and art have to do with ordered complexity.”
— Lancelot Law Whyte

   “Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations.”  - Paul Cezanne

   The last time I saw work by Betsy Cavalier-Casey was in 2013 at North Canton’s Little Art Gallery ( reviewed here at ). Her pieces in this current exhibit, curated by Erin Mulligan and with a few works from that 2013 show (including an updated version of her marvelous floating sculptural installation piece, “Out of Impulse”), are essentially a reiteration of her painterly explorations in the realm of interconnectivity within a given system of diverse components. More specifically, you could call any one of her paintings a kind of diagram, or an abstract anatomy of what might be  biological microsystems and processes.

   While I don’t have much more of great substance to add to what I wrote in my 2013 review, it’s worth re-noting the especially tactile nature of her painted surfaces. In some ways they source the legacy of Jackson Pollock’s “action paintings.” He manipulated all sorts of paints, in varying viscosities and thicknesses, in all sorts of unconventional ways (by 1940s and 1950s standards) – dripping and flinging, splattering and pouring, pooling and scraping. His pictures are compelling documents of choreographed gestures and motions that marry the material behavior of paint to the ephemeral effects of space, time, and gravity.

   That said, Cavalier-Casey’s paintings, despite their ostensibly abstract feel, are more intentionally managed entities. Hers are pictures of things drawn, albeit loosely, from the visible or accessible world, as opposed to Pollock’s substantially more dense and wholly non-objective content. Relatively speaking, Cavalier-Casey leaves lots of air in her pictures. And she often articulates passages wherein she outlines the contours of organic shapes with a sharpie. There’s a certain intimacy to making these thin lines in counterpoint to the less delicate action of, say, pouring a pool of color on to the surface and letting it dry as it will, producing a variety of textures such as wrinkles or cracks. Think of it as the difference between writing in long-hand script, and shouting out loud. Yet both of these mark-making methods function harmoniously enough in her paintings, generating an elegant symbiosis.

    Lizzi Aronhalt’s arresting cityscapes shout out loud too, with both a highly luminous palette (much like that of Cavalier-Casey) and the incorporation of strong linear elements, often drawn in black. While those elements can appear to be super-imposed outlines, they also act as skeletal underpinnings that reinforce the rhythms of all those bold architectural shapes. At times, Aronhalt’s thinner lines seem to float and meander in a scribbled manner, like microbursts of energy animating the objects and the air in her scenes. These pictures have a pulse. Listen. Hear their heartbeat? 

   Stylistic and iconographic differences aside, both of these artists, with remarkable panache, engage that elusive balance between spontaneity and planning, between lyrical intuition and conscious engineering. Whether micro or macro in scope, their works are intriguing testaments to an aesthetic truth embraced by such seminal modernists as Manet, Cezanne, Matisse, Pollock, and beyond: The painted surface is a life unto itself.

   PHOTOS, from top: Betsy Cavalier-Casey – Hyperactitivity; Pods; Super Frazzled / Lizzi Aronhalt – Pigeons Twice Removed; Mountains and Dishes; Ohrid      

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