Donna Talerico at Saks Fifth Avenue

By Jane Durrell

Dans la Cour

The invitation is to meet the artist, Donna Talerico, whose show opens that very evening, in the shoe department on the first floor of Saks Fifth Avenue. In Cincinnati Saks is on Fifth Street rather than Fifth Avenue, at the corner of Race.

Saks is kicking off its seasonal artist series with this show, the invitation says, and carries a frisky silhouette of artist with palette and brushes in hand, her heels almost as high as her brushes are long. “Come from 6-8 p.m. for a champagne celebration” it urges; her work will be shown through out the store. I am assigned the review.

What to wear! I go to openings in museums, in trendy galleries, in funky galleries, and my wardrobe – individual rather than fashionable – is usually o.k. But Saks! Even on Fifth St. not Ave., Saks is another dimension. 
 In the end I wore black velvet pants and a silk print blouse bought in an Atlanta consignment shop when I was last there and added a peculiar tie, broad, stiff, silk, that picked up some of the blouse’s colors but had a design of its own. When au courant is unattainable, try for striking.

The shoe department seemed calm. A young woman whose jeans shorts ended very high indeed, leaving a lovely length of leg above stiletto heels, was looking critically at other stiletto-heeled shoes. I wasn’t the only one going for striking over full-bore fashionable.
At a small table a couple of handouts told me I was in the right place, and by luck at the right time. The expansive 6 to 8 p.m. had shrunk to 6::30 – 7:30 but my usual mode (go early, but not too early) got me there at the reasonably appropriate 6:37 p.m. To meet the artist, though, and look at the art, I needed to hurry.

At 6:37 p.m. the opening was lightly attended. A little group surrounded someone I took to be the artist, and indeed she was Donna Talerico. We spoke briefly, said perhaps we’d talk later, and I went off to look at the art, passing the champagne table (driving yourself is so limiting) and refusing the single hors d’oeuvre on the tray offered by a white-jacketed waiter, having not long ago had a bad experience with the last remaining slice of quiche at a restaurant known for same.
Talerico’s exuberant paintings fit into Saks like a hand in a glove, to use a clothing simile. (Is there still a glove department? When did you last see a little white glove?)
A high end clothing store projects a sub text that might be read as “This is the life!” and Talerico’s paintings do the same. She says she is inspired by Impressionism, by the Fauve movement, and proceeds with strong colors, broad strokes, and clear delight in her process.
Before immersing herself in this color-drenched world Talerico had spent a career’s-worth of time as a fashion illustrator working in black-and-white. Her French ancestry seemingly predisposed her to flee to that country “whenever I could afford airfare” and it was there she turned to color as though she had never been anywhere else.

Le Croupier

At Saks the exhibition can be seen by following foot prints laid out on the white floor, leading from Shoes to Jewelry, to Men’s (“Le Croupier” holds attention there) and up the escalator to the second floor where landscapes outnumber people-centered works and “Le Jardin Abandonne” is in the Designer section along with an urban view, “Dans la Cour,” and “En Route au Sud.” It’s enough to send you to your travel agent for an immediate flight to France.
Downstairs again, look for “Lilly Pads” in the handbags department. Artists like lilly pads, they interrupt the surface of a pond in interesting ways and are usually shown in horizontal formats, restful, floating quietly, portrayed in soft colors. Not these. The format is vertical, the colors are rich and the sense of living vegetation is strong.

Talerico paintings are also on view in Saks’ Race Street windows. “Le Mistral” manages to convey a sense of motion even this far from the source of that strong French wind. The other painting, “Sanibel,” deserts France and gives us a sandy look at Florida colors. Although Saks Fifth Avenue is not the right venue for every artist, the vibrant work of Donna Talerico retains its individuality in the retail setting. The show remains through May 25.

But of course you want to know: can try-for-striking substitute for au courant? I think so. A really good looking man among the people talking with the artist said “I want you to know I like your tie” and when I got home a fellow tenant, who normally pays me little mind, held the door for me. I may wear that tie again.

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