East City Art Reviews—Holy Inventions at Addison/Ripley Fine Art

By Elsabé Johnson Dixon on February 25, 2023

Artist and curator Isabel Manalo has assembled a group of artists for the exhibition Holy Inventions, now on view at Addison/Ripley Fine Art. Each approaches the canvas with different techniques, themes and meanings. Yet, because they are all so different, as a whole, the works solicit a sensory response from the viewer to contemplate the concept of “holy moments” where perfection can be perceived through imperfect unions.

On February 11, 2023, a panel discussion outlined an extended conversation on the five artists represented in Holy Inventions. Gallerist Christopher Addison opened the panel, saying that this exhibition offers much to see, and that the depth of expression in the work is significant. Manalo opined that she firmly believes it necessary that artists not disconnect from other artists, and that Holy Inventions can offer a platform to discuss multiple approaches to truthful moments in painting.

Cheryl Edwards, Ultimate Brown Angel, 2020, Oil on Canvas, 40 x 30 inches. Photo: Courtesy of Addison Ripley Fine Art Gallery.

Cheryl Edwards uses recognizable elements from ancient Egyptian paddle doll forms, and high value hues that radiate when one stands in front of her canvases, and pulp paintings. Born and raised in Miami, Edwards states that this sunlit tropical region influenced the high value colors she chooses to employ, in thick painterly strokes, to her canvases. The Egyptian paddle doll shape gave her a form to deconstruct. First excavations of these Egyptian Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030 – 1802 B.C.) paddle dolls in 1920 led to speculation that the dolls were accoutrements of performing, singing, and dancing troupes in ceremonies associated with the goddess Hathor. Edward’s paintings evoke the flat wooden forms of the paddle dolls, depicting the torso, rudimentary arms and the neck/ head of a woman. She incorporates other recognizable attributes such as a checkered belt, breasts, and triangular pubic area, which echo the triangle used in science to denote water–a vital element for rebirth and resurrection. As an African American, Edwards says she is drawn to these female forms and to the history behind them. While she views the paddle doll as object of inspiration, by adapting their form, she also brings attention to those mysterious ancient Egyptian artists who employed the dolls in rites of mourning for the deceased, performing at festivals of the gods, and spiritual chanters. When one stands in front of the powerful forms conjured up in Cheryl Edward’s paintings, one realizes that the power of objects can be transferred and resurrected.

Ian Jehle, Mississauga, 2021 Flash, Acrylic, Latex on OSB plywood, 12 x 8 inches, Photo Courtesy of Addison Ripley Fine Art Gallery.

Ian Jehle said the city of Berlin conjured up many mixed emotions and memories that held significant meaning for him–his father escaped to West Berlin in the 1950s. A prolonged visit to Berlin right before the pandemic hit, was not what he expected it to be, and did not reflect his first impressions on a short visit with curator Isabel Manalo two years before. He said all his expectations were upended. He found himself walking through the city of Berlin on a daily basis, and realizing that the city itself was in a constant state of change and construction. The plywood used in his paintings began to symbolize this change and his personal history about Berlin. Everywhere he walked, he saw the plywood–construction sites, boarded-up buildings, and signboards–it was all over the city. Describing himself as a “science nerd,” Ian Jehle started seeing imaginary maps in the plywood. He explained that most map designs—for viewing clarity–use four colors and the designated areas of states or counties touching, are usually seen better because they are depicted by a different color. He started picking up small detritus from sites across Berlin, and selecting individual chips as a mapmaker would select specific areas to paint one color—putting another color on the chip next to the one just painted. Jehle said that this self-imposed order felt very good to him because he could bring together his family history, his love of mathematics and geometry all on one surface.

Caitlin Teal Price, Untitled (Candy Store), 2021, X-acto blade etching and colored pencil on photographic pigment print, 30 x 40 inches. Photo: Courtesy of Addison Ripley Fine Art Gallery

Caitlin Teal Price’s work captures colored light reflection and pattern in a single moment in time. Her work, she says, started to shift in 2019–right before the pandemic—as she transitioned from a photographic, to a more graphic technique of etching or scraping away printed areas of photographs. The photographs she captures by placing a colored piece of paper in the direct light coming through a window. Once the photograph is developed, she uses an X-ACTO blade to scrape away at the photographic emulsion. This creates clear sharp edged patterns floating on top of the elusive color photographs underneath. This shadowed colored ground and floating white net-like forms can stimulate a strong sensory response—reminiscent of the way the sun feels, hitting your face on a late afternoon as you stand in a garden. These works conjure up the most pleasant sensation and have the power to beguile anyone standing in front of them.

Tom Bunnell, Big Talker, 2020 Oil on canvas, 56 x 60 inches. Photo: Courtesy of Addison Ripley Fine Art Gallery

On opening night Tom Bunnell’s large five by four feet canvas, The Big Talker, 2020, drew people to it and more “selfies” were taken in front of that particular work than any other. The lush and pleasant combination of drawings and colored forms intermingling between many layers of paint built up like a traditional eighteenth century Dutch painting was strangely familiar. Bunnell’s work echoes a technique used to obtain realism, but it is applied to contemporary abstract drawing and repeated forms – never to conjure up a face or an object but memory and emotion.

Leo Bersamina, Gem, 2016, acrylic on cardboard, 24 x 23 x 4 inches. Photo: Courtesy of Addison Ripley Fine Art Gallery.

Leo Bersamina’s work explores geometric and organic forms but the picture plane often breaks away from the square canvas, as we see in his work, Gem, 2016, where the ground is a very sculptural seven-sided shape made out of acrylic board. This use of painting on found shapes is also prevalent in Blue Orb, 2023, where Bersamina imposes hard-edge lines on multiple organic round shapes. This positioning of opposites creates a seductive play on the viewer’s sensory perception of 2D and 3D exchanges.

All artists represented in Holy Inventions allows us to perceive a perfect holy moment of balance–using ancient forgotten objects; systems underlying map-making; subliminal color and etched forms; natural and geometric sculptural shapes, and the viscosity of a million layers. And every one of them succeeds to portray perfection through the unusual combination of unique imperfect inventions – juxtaposed to create a holy moment.

Holy Inventions is on view January 28-March 4, 2023 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington DC, 20007. Tuesday-Saturday from 11am to 4pm |   (202) 338-5180.