East City Artnotes: John Aquilino at Artists and Makers

By Claudia Rousseau, Ph.D. on August 15, 2017
John Aquilino Dawn, oil on canvas, 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist.

New paintings and two amazing drawings are on view at the Gallery at Artists and Makers 2.  John Aquilino has been working for over a decade with imagery based on contemporary architecture and urban landscapes.  His past work was largely based on photographs of places in and around the DMV, including such spaces as parking garages and apartment towers.  His paintings have often seemed related to the aesthetic achieved by Charles Sheeler’s photography of buildings in New York in the 1930s.

Aquilino’s abstraction of constructed forms has tended in the same direction with views of urban landscapes transformed with bright colors and reduction of detail.  The current show represents a new body of work that utilizes a computer software program called Newtek Lightwave 3D rather than relying on actual scenes recorded in drawings or photographs as references.   With this technology, the artist is creating “virtual cityscapes” by building structures from scratch and combining them into an imagined cityscape of tall buildings crammed together.  A notebook showing the complex stages involved in this is available to visitors.

John Aquilino The Day After, graphite drawing, 2015. Photos courtesy of the artist.

Yet, these shapes are void of windows or other detail and look more like colorful blocks than buildings.  True, Aquilino is attempting to branch out of a practice he’s been working in for some time, but I’m not sure that this is the most successful avenue for that exploration.  A few of the works have a greater sense of “cityscape” by including shadow and light in a more representational manner.  Dawn is one of these, where light seems to rise on the collected blocks, and Some Other Time, a smaller canvas, includes a shadow over part of the scene, as though seen from another building outside the frame.

Most of these paintings are in oil on canvas, achieving an unusually flat surface with this medium.   Six of them, 18” x 18” numbered Studies in gouache on illustration board, are among the most successful compositionally, the medium lending itself well to these constructions.  However, standing out from all the rest of the exhibit are two extraordinarily elegant graphite drawings on paper of urban scenes.  Perhaps it’s because here I can sense the artist’s hand, and the textures of the surfaces are varied, giving a greater feeling of perspective and three-dimensionality of form.

Artists & Makers Studios 2 (Main Gallery) is located at 12276 Wilkins Avenue , Rockville, MD 20852.  For more information visit the website at www.artistsandmakersstudios.com.  The exhibition is on view August 4–30, 2017.