JAN 14

About the PAFA at Penn program
   PAFA at Penn is an exhibition of artworks by students from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts who are enrolled in classes and pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Pennsylvania. This is a unique program administered through the College of General Studies that allows for simultaneous studies at both America’s first art school and museum and America’s first university. PAFA offers an extremely intimate art education environment with under three hundred students practicing painting, sculpture, and printmaking. Many of these students elect to pursue academics in addition to the rigorous art curriculum. The transition from PAFA to Penn can be challenging primarily due to a lack of integration into the broader Penn community. This exhibit at the Kelly Writers House is a first of many steps to increase the exposure of PAFA student artists to the University at large.

By Peter Schwarz, Curator
 We should apologize for daring to speak about painting
~Paul Valery
  I cannot heed Valery’s words despite the implicit charge of transgression and violation—one commentator voicing over another, the writer daring to speak for the artist as if the work were not enough to reach the senses. Nothing could be further from the truth: presented in the space of the Kelly Writers House, a space itself which recreates the early modernist days when the salon reigned as happening, this collection is a testament both to the Pennsylvania Academy’s eminence in training extraordinary artists and the power of art to seep into the human consciousness in subtle, profound ways that often equal revelations. This exhibit presents artists and works too numerous for commentary beyond those following this introduction, though every work indicates great possibilities. Each work represents an artist during various stages on that journey through the human experience, and I offer these words as an homage while privately (and now publicly) lamenting the meagerness of my own craft.

   The fragility of words is exposed, words fall away from the sublime, in the face of the self-portrait of Mary E. Harju. Neither reflecting an ordinary exercise of portraiture nor presenting an act of ego, “Self-Portrait in the Studio” reveals the elements of Harju’s contradictory spirit in both physical and psychological terms—mad beautiful grace, fear, pride, strength of purpose, fragility, dignity, love—presenting herself before herself as if she were suddenly caught by surprise, poised in fierce dignity on the edge of infuriation for the intrusion. Is it a courageous introspection, a confrontation of personas? Is it an act of purgation? Or the declaration Je suis comme ca! Subtle currents run strong in the depths of passion. “Self-Portrait in the Studio” restores to the genre what is so often lacking in many, more frivolous portraits: honesty and courage, the ability to lure out the subject’s interior without compromising the subject’s facade and extending it to the mood of the subject’s environment. 

   The high standard of portraiture extends to Kate Fraser’s “Unappreciated”. Set in a faded aura, the little princess stands before the viewer strikingly real, this lonely wounded girl wrenching the heart, causing the viewer to wish for the power to heal the girl’s wounds and restore her magnificent colors. The three studies of sculptor Mark Utreras are executed by the detailed eye and precise hand of a sculptor whose complex sense of perspective in “After Prud’hon” nearly creates a sculpture on paper. Utreras renders the model’s form in a manner approaching the sublime. Magy Miller’s  untitled portrait of a strong and sinister man evokes impressions of a serious caricature, the man as a thief, liar, swindler, pernicious seducer of naïve women who swoon before his swarthiness, all personalities as a comical exaggeration recalling childhood cartoons. Erich Estes’ untitled charcoal on paper, drawing on influences of Munch’s “The Scream”, speaks The horror! as the subject witnesses an astounding crime or tragedy defying comprehension, darkening consciousness. Estes reduces the magnitude of extreme incomprehension to existentialist essentials, revealing a cold interior approaching Beckett’s absurd.
   The several three dimensional pieces are led by Adam Presti’s “River God” and Hisako Inoue’s “Do I know You?”. Presti’s terra cotta sculpture with blue highlights gives life to a mythical figure and depicts the strength and wild power of a god caught in human form; perhaps unable to renounce his human existence, the god’s heavy eyes and collapsed posture suggest a profound melancholy. In strong contrast is Inoue’s rubber piece: a fascinating, fun, playful work that draws the viewer closer, Inoue contributes an example of Japanese artistic comedy. Delightfully pure in its minimalism, the viewer’s imagination is invited to participate, maybe imagining this as a model for a much larger, floor installation piece of performance anime.

   Now I heed Valery’s words.