Must-sees in Philly galleries right now, including Scott Noel’s exceptional paintings
by Edith Newhall, For The Inquirer, Updated: February 21, 2019
Scott Noel’s exhibition “The Academy and the Alcázar,” at Gross McCleaf Gallery, is more ambitious than previous shows of his I’ve seen — he’s been given both the front and back galleries — and his paintings have a new lushness.
His compositions of figures are still studied, but they’re more painterly.
Noel’s characteristic filtered natural light makes people and places seem exceptionally still and quiet. I’m reminded of hot, dry air at noon in a city more Mexico City than humid Philadelphia. And that’s still very much intact.
Noel observed paintings by Velásquez at the Prado in Madrid and felt a kinship with the 17th-century Spanish painter, spurring this latest body of work.
You can see the influence in paintings such as Britomart, depicting a model at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (where Noel is a professor) surrounded by students. The Velásquez effect is also there in a view of Noel’s wife’s vegetable garden behind their house in Manayunk, and in sweeping scenes of Center City that emphasize the assimilation of new buildings into the historic cityscape.
Some of these paintings are quirkier, too, than paintings I remember from Noel’s past shows.
And Then Face to Face, for example, is a view of Broad Street and the historic Frank Furness-designed PAFA building from an upper floor of PAFA’s Hamilton Building — in which Noel has excluded much of Claes Oldenburg’s late, overproduced, slick outdoor sculpture, Paint Torch.
If that’s a critique, I’m with Noel.