The psychedelic labyrinths of Isaiah Zagar’s Philadelphia Magic Gardens are being infused with new types of surreal chaos.
Fostering a continuation of its seemingly endless concoction of color on South Street, the mosaic oasis is presenting a new exhibition, “Patterns of Obsession,” in partnership with Paradigm Galleries, which runs through April 28.
The tandem showcase features the variegated creations of Philadelphia-based painter and musician Andrew Chalfen and local Haitian painter and sculptor Claes Gabriel. Encompassing more than 40 pieces of work, the duo delves into their own impressions of scattered sequences, evoking indistinct shapes and stories through tangled hues.
“It’s a giant overlapping venn diagram,” Chalfen said. “Both Claes and I deal with a lot of repeated patterns. Something like theme and variation, and that’s what Isaiah Zagar is doing, too – just sort of maximalist. It’s maximalist, but it’s also, in a way, minimalist, because there’s certain formal elements that each of us are using. It’s not all kitchen sink.”
Though presenting different mediums, the artists share a similar ingenuity of getting lost in the details, as they notice the patterns of real-life networks – whether a meandering river or expanding galaxy – living within a procedure of paint strokes.
Chalfen’s work, which includes paintings dating to 2011 through new ones created this year, are inspired heavily by topography, such as aerial views a lot and elevation lines.
“People love repeated patterns,” Chalfen said. “They just gravitate towards patterns. We’re always looking for patterns – either in nature or man-made things or creating them. That’s how we understand the world.”
Using a canvas of kaleidoscopic shades inspired by his older brothers’ Beatles and Jimi Hendrix album covers, Chalfen’s palette complements Gabriel’s hollow wooden masks and free-standing statues that derive from Hatian mythology, voodoo and mysticism.
Moved by the work of Frank Stella and Sam Gilliam, Gabriel, whose exhibition work also ranges from the past few years, wanted to break out of the traditional painting square, as gradually his work evolved from off the walls.
With the end stick of a paintbrush, Gabriel drops the colors layer by layer until his exquisite patterns, which often result in seraphic facial features, complete themselves.
“(The work is) mostly instinctual,” Gabriel said. “Like I’m really freaking out from the gut to create the patterns, so it could go far back from the beginning of time – who knows?”
Similarly, Chalfen says his process also feels instinctive, as the guitarist, keyboardist and songwriter notices the execution of his work, which often involves sketching images and then returning to the pencil lines with paint, echoes his musicianship.
After all, music is among many things that follow a pattern.
“There’s a definite overlap between my musical creative life and my visual creative life in terms of, especially, arrangement and spacing and densities and placings of the work,” Chalfen said.
Both artists tend to approach their blank canvases lacking bounded ideas. Instead, they let the randomness take over, putting certain parameters in motion and seeing what happens.
Once a decision is made, other decisions sort of follow, they say. With so many variables, the artists often can’t predict what’s going to happen next.
Although stressful, the arbitrary process is often therapeutic, and, perhaps, audiences will gravitate into such transcendence, too.
“I like that effect of, if you’re looking at a piece, and it’ll filling out over the sides and it’s kind of overwhelming,” Chalfen said. “But if (audiences) spent some time with it, and they zero in on little details of it, and they get lost in those details, then they’re not thinking about other things…they’re getting into the meditation of it – the pondering of it.”
But their fortuitous systems are the result of a certain visionary zeal embedded in the exhibit’s very title.
“It takes a matter of obsession to make something good when it comes to art,” Gabriel said. “And it’s not the same thing as dedication, because that takes willpower, like someone who works at something for 10, 12 hours a day, because their deadline is due – as opposed to someone who works at something 10, 12 hours a day, because they must…I think it takes a certain amount of obsession to make something good.”
To learn more about the show, visit: www.phillymagicgardens.org/public-programs/exhibitions/current-exhibition/