Philip LaVelle at 1305 Gallery

~ Jane Durrell


Philip LaVelle’s vibrant show of new work at 1305 Gallery on Main Street opened immediately after the January aeqai appeared and closed immediately before this issue.  Its visual and intellectual content encouraged a belated review.

At first glance LaVelle might be proposing a future in which all lines are straight, all angles abrupt and and all colors flat. His linear forms and strong colors also provoke a curious reference to Kurt Schwitters and German Expressionism, but other things are afoot. These angular compositions, teasingly shifting in their interior relationships, have backgrounds made up of harmonies of subtle color where no straight line can be discerned. What LaVelle has done, he says, is make paintings “composed of stenciled spray painted lines, collaged inkjet prints of both found and family photos, and layers of clear medium.”  Spray painting results in more than lines alone and the clear gloss provides a top layer to each work, producing a slick and, depending on how the light strikes it, shiny surface.

There are unexpected deviations from his general form. Just as it seems nature has no place here  one might notice that “Expectations of Time’ is tricked out with a leafy branch at right center.  The reminder of living things is welcome.

Another surprise comes in recognizing that LaVelle is a words man.  While many artists seemingly resent the public’s desire for titles – hence all the bald “Untitled” labels – Lavelle has a fine time with his. They are amused, ironic, often poetic and frequently illuminating. The most revealing, the one that tells us why the background of each work is a hazy intricacy of painting, is “I Dream of Turner.”  A shadowy figure can barely be discerned within what is perhaps a space ship made of old house parts; the figure’s head is turned to a background of dissolving colors that may have mysteries within. The painting is nearly square, twenty four and a half inches high by twenty four inches wide, and gives over more space to that filmy, layered background than most of the others.

Here’s LaVelle having fun:  “Bowl of Fruit (Just Kidding)” is no more like a bowl of fruit than is the engine in your car but gives us geometry as good times rolling. His titles can be pensive: “Where Will We Be Tomorrow?” or rueful: “How in the Past We Talked About The Future.”

It’s interesting to see him using panels of the same dimensions, in this case twelve inches high by twenty-four inches wide, to project vastly different impressions. “Time Travel is Lonely” is crowded with busy shapes somehow suggesting both motion and boredom, while “I Fell Asleep on My Dad I Was Small” has an undeniable sense of comfort and quiet. The strongly horizontal space is used for  contrasting ends.

In “Overworked/Underprocessed” he makes an informal frame of brilliant white hard-edged shapes against a background that here is gleaming black, throws in a handful of colors and might be criticizing in a bemused fashion his own work.

There’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to the title “Introduction to American Literature,” and in the painting itself bright, flat shapes surround a long look back to shadows. The orderly appearance of  “How In The Past We talked About The Future” is quickly belied by the disorderly state of its shelf-like spaces. Longing for future surety and the impossibility of having it can be one way to read this painting, but it may be enough to enjoy the interaction of its parts.

Interaction of the parts is, I think, the artist’s own  driving interest.  He delights in shifting shapes, in lines that suggest, perhaps, a simple front porch but skew to make such interpretation impossible. Depth and perspective are no sure things here; the viewer needs to keep alert. Despite the industrial look of these works it’s interesting to note that while machines are invoked they are seldom  portrayed. The world he reflects is the one we have now, when “real” and “virtual” (he points out in his statement) have split our lives to an extent unknown before.

The largest work on view,”(The) Collusion Conclusion” (twenty four inches high by forty eight and a half inches wide) seems to sum up the thought here. It has a rush of forms, transparent for the most part, few flat colors, two or three faint and elongated photographs of  industrial buildings almost disappearing, and a bright multi-colored circle like an inlaid tile in the approximate center. This figure repeats as half of itself at the lower right edge of the panel, the other half having disappeared into whatever is beyond.

Lavelle is a Cincinnati artist with a studio on Court Street where he lives and works. He has shown in the Cincinnati area, in Chicago, and in Athens, Ohio, where he graduated from Ohio University in 2006. His paintings are meticulously executed and continually interesting.

Next up at 1305 is an exhibition of new work by Nate Weikert, painter and art educator; he teaches at Lakota. His graphite and gouache drawings and paintings on paper tend to have enormous energy or to retreat into suggestive shadow. This show opens February 22 to run through March 24.

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