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South Philly artist’s exhibition opens in Northern Liberties

Deborah Caiola sure has a lot on her mind and even more on her paintbrush.

Art enthusiasts can have a front-row seat to Caiola’s imagination as she extracts characters from archetypes, memories and ancestors in an upcoming art exhibit.

Caiola, who lives in the East Passyunk neighborhood of South Philadelphia, is unveiling her work called “Muses, Guardians, and Saints” through April 4 at the InLiquid Gallery at the Crane Arts Building at 1400 N. American St. in Northern Liberties.

Gallery hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. A reception will be held on March 12 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Each of the 15 large drawings were pulled from Caiola’s mind without using visual references in what she describes as a dance with her subconscious.

“In the end, It’s what I was meant to do the whole time,” Caiola said. “It’s 100 times more fun to be able to draw something out, than to have to make it look like something similar. It’s infinite.”

Caiola has been teaching art at the Friends Select School in Center City for 10 years and she’s in her second year as chair of the school’s visual arts department.

Originally from Washington D.C., Caiola moved to Philadelphia in the early ‘90s and earned a living as a social worker while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She fell in love with the art scene in Philadelphia and decided to stick around.

“My brother says I came for the weekend and never left,” she said with a laugh. “I lived with him for seven years.”

Now she produces artwork in a studio on the second floor of her East Passyunk home. Her current work is drastically different from her first exhibit 12 years ago at the Bridgette Mayer gallery on Walnut Street in Washington Square, when she unveiled paintings that coincided with interviews of a dozen women from the Silent Generation. 

Since then, her hard work as a teacher gave her limited time to pursue creating art. But that changed five years ago, as Caiola decided to dedicate more time to painting

“Education is a whole thing,” she said. “And I’m still learning every day. But I didn’t have a lot of time for this. But five years ago, I decided I have to work. If you’re an artist, you paint.”

It resulted in a wonderful collection of surreal lifelike characters on 48-inch by 36-inch wooden displays.

Each painting contains symbols that illustrate the essential aspects of the character. Caiola says the exhibition captures one moment in the life of the protagonist, with some muses, guardians and saints more present and in focus than others. 

Caiola says this body of work follows a long history of archetypal studies, including the Kabbalah, the Tarot, classical temperaments, the Enneagram, the 21 Taras of Buddhism, Carl Jung’s 12 fundamental traits, the Myers-Briggs and the many faces of the Hindu Deities.

It was a long process that Caiola said was expedited to completion once she scheduled the exhibit.

“I think more than anything, it pushed me to finish,” she said. “It could have gone on and on. It pushed me to make a statement and wrap it up, which is challenging. It feels really good that I can show it and move on to something else. When (the paintings) get out of this tiny little space, I’ll be able to think more clearly.”

Paintings will be available for purchase during the exhibit. 

“They’re all for sale,” she said. “I don’t have space to house all of these, so I would like them to all move on and to find homes somewhere.”

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