“In early March 2020, Haverford College, like educational institutions throughout the country, closed its campus to visitors and moved classes online in order to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the months that followed, Ying Li, the Phlyssa Koshland professor in Fine Arts at Haverford, responded to the crisis with astonishing and prolific creativity. Comprising 47 paintings created in just five months, Blossoms in a Sudden Strangeness reflects a profound aesthetic discipline. Li began each painting through closely observing subjects she discovered in or near her apartment on Haverford’s campus, such as the view from her porch or cherry trees in bloom. Responding to beauty and ephemerality in nature, she abstracts and reworks each composition until her expressive gestures and densely layered surfaces convey the complexity of her observations over time. Reveling in possibility, she adds, spreads, and scrapes away paint, creating relief-like topographies. Amid the ‘sudden strangeness’ of the pandemic, Li was fortunate to safely remain on campus, taking inspiration from flora and fauna that have fascinated her for more than 25 years.
Li’s creative resilience is rooted in her past experiences with cultural upheaval and personal hardship. To understand her tireless work ethic and vibrant curiosity, it is helpful to consider her upbringing, training, and artistic evolution. Born in Beijing, China, Li came of age during the so-called ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’ (1965–77). In 1967, her father, a scholar of Russian literature, was arrested and accused of counter-revolutionary activity. At the age of sixteen, Ying was separated from her parents and sister and forced to labor and be ‘re-educated’ for five and a half years on rural farmland in Anhui Province. Like many others, she suffered from food scarcity. Occasionally, she was required to create propaganda posters and murals and to paint in the socialist realist style. Undeterred, she used some of the supplies issued by the state for propaganda to practice painting in Western styles and to explore her own aesthetic.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic and interrelated environmental and political crises, Li continues to paint with both existential urgency and verve. Celebrating the restorative power of beauty, she models qualities we need now, more than ever, not the least of which are empathy, intellectual curiosity, and resilience.”
- Andrea Packard, Mixed-Media Artist and Curator
This exhibition is the second iteration of Blossoms in A Sudden Strangeness. The first was held on Haverford’s campus in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery from September 22 - November 13, 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the exhibition posted reduced hours that prohibited outside visitors. Gross McCleaf Gallery is pleased to offer another opportunity for these, as well as additional new works, to be exhibited together.
Ying Li has had numerous solo exhibitions in galleries across the United States and internationally. Her works have also been included in group exhibitions in galleries and museums including the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The National Academy Museum, and Hood Museum of Art. In the summer of 2021, Li exhibited her work alongside Lois Dodd in a two-person exhibition at Rosyendpost Gallery in Greenport, New York. Li is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the Henry Ward Ranger Fund Purchase Award, Edwin Palmer Memorial Prize for painting from the National Academy Museum, and many more. Her work has been reviewed in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Art Forum, Art in America, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post and Hyperallergic.com. She is represented by Gross McCleaf Gallery and lives and works in the Philadelphia and New York City areas.
Elaine Lisle’s solo exhibition at Gross McCleaf is thoughtfully titled, “Autumn”. While the fall has long been associated with winding down, there is also an aspect of this time of year that represents a new beginning: a new season, the start of the scholastic year, and the annual count-down toward the succession of holidays that culminate in New Year’s Day. In Lisle’s new paintings, the artist conveys the comfort and solace that a return to routine brings and the optimism of beginning anew. The work clearly presents Lisle’s delight in the singular beauty of this time of year as trees turn brilliant hues, blue skies are freed of summer’s humidity, and glorious sunsets give way to crisp evenings.
While dealing with the challenges of the past year, Lisle visited nearby sites such as the street next to her studio, the Schuylkill River, French Creek State Park, the campus at Bryn Mawr College, and the Barnes Arboretum. There, the artist enjoyed the opportunity to paint en plein air with ample subject matter to explore. This inspiration was then brought into the studio where she completed larger works from her studies, reference sketches, and photographs. The artist says, “Intense, exaggerated color is a hallmark of my work. Part of what draws me to paint is to capture and share the intensity of what I am seeing…hoping to take an ordinary scene and make it mesmerizing. I know I have been successful when the viewer feels as though they have been there.”
Elaine Lisle received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania where revered landscape artist Neil Welliver gave her the permission she needed to pursue a career as a realist painter at a time when many young artists were turning to abstraction. She later continued her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where she was greatly influenced by the luminous abstract paintings of the late Murray Dessner, others. This is her fourth solo exhibition with Gross McCleaf Gallery.
Gross McCleaf Gallery is pleased to feature an exhibition of paintings, drawings, and sculptures by James Stewart, influenced by poet Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic.
James Stewart is captivated by the human condition in times of major socio-political events. For many years, Stewart painted imagined scenes of cafes and nightlife in Berlin between the World Wars. He considered this to be, “…a turbulent but hopeful time that eventually turned tragic” and painted large groups of people cheerfully unaware of the impending rise of Nazism.
Recently, a friend introduced the artist to poet Ilya Kaminsky, and Stewart was struck by the similarities between their projects. Kaminsky’s 2019 work, Deaf Republic, follows the personal lives of characters living in a time of political unrest in an occupied country and details the uncomfortable realities of their behavior given the desperate circumstances. As a result of Stewart and Kaminsky’s fateful encounter, Stewart has reworked and retitled oil paintings to directly reference Deaf Republic and has painted many new scenes that are strongly influenced by Kaminsky’s words, stories, and characters. Indeed, like Kaminsky’s poetry, Stewart’s work now also features detailed and intimate relationships between characters and the difficulties of their surroundings.
A range of human emotions and connections can be found in this exhibition. In “Of Weddings Before The War”, a festive group gathers for a celebration to enjoy dancing, refreshments, and music. A ferris wheel can be seen sparkling in the distance. In another painting, “But With Whom Can You Sit In Water”, the world stands still for two lovers in a bathtub. The two figures face each other in a tender embrace, their noses nearly touching. Other works display tensions, uncertainty, and death. In a complex painting titled, “Large Overture”, a man glares out of a cafe window toward a laughing child, while a reflection in the window depicts a hanged man and an armed group of soldiers. In the far-left corner of the canvas, the tangled body of a dead child is held by distraught adults. In the background, a shadowy group of men is coordinating in a clandestine effort. Stewart brilliantly depicts a sensitivity and attention to detail that envelopes the viewer within the emotions of the scene. While following this fictional story, one may also find connections that resonate with their own life.
James Stewart has been painting full-time since his graduation from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Since then, he has had solo exhibitions with Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia, Gallery 71 in New York City, Hoyt Institute of Fine Art and The List Gallery at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Washington County Museum of Art in Maryland, Carspecken-Scott Gallery in Delaware, and The Butler Museum of American Art in Ohio. His work has also been included in numerous group shows across the Mid-Atlantic region.
Stewart is the recipient of several prestigious awards beginning with PAFA’s Cresson European Travel Scholarship in 1992. In 2007, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for travel and study in Europe. Stewart was awarded the Ballinglen Fellowship in 2009, which allowed him to travel and paint in Ireland and where he has returned many times. The artist lives and works in Western Pennsylvania and has been represented by Gross McCleaf Gallery since 1994.
This exhibition features a selection of works from a larger body that will travel to the Ross Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University this winter.