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Jennifer Levonian and Sarah Gamble

Fleisher/Ollman Gallery
1216 Arch Street, 5A
February 5, 2016–March 26, 2016

Jennifer Levonian, Jewelry Box, 2016, digitally printed cotton, batting, and thread, 72 x 53".

Jennifer Levonian’s short, surreal cut-paper animation Xylophone, 2015, muses on the everyday clichés and complexities of gender, gentrification, and creative living in transitional urban spaces. Wryly referencing Philadelphia’s rapidly changing neighborhoods and rendered in swift, fluid watercolor marks, Levonian’s leafy farmers’ markets, tastefully rehabbed row homes, and yoga-studio lofts adorned with “Breathe in love, breathe out peace” posters glow—uncomfortably brightly, perhaps—alongside shuttered payday-loan places on derelict blocks. Seemingly trapped within this environment, a sleep-deprived, voluptuously pregnant quilter stitches swatches of fabric, exercises awkwardly with other moms, and entertains a rambunctious daughter—whose antics eventually lead her and her mother to climb atop a street-corner billboard platform where, wind coursing through their hair, they escape into a kind of psychic freedom. Three quilts by Levonian, hung directly outside Xylophone’s screening room, echo both her protagonist’s practice and mental state, as well as the repetitive labor of animation. One, Jewelry Box, 2016, features a grid of linear drawings of exaggeratedly confused and despairing faces surrounded by cursive phrases that indicate either disappointment or frantic explanation, such as “I’m not mad . . . it’s just that . . .”

The textiles share gallery space with a second solo presentation of Sarah Gamble’s densely layered mixed-media paintings. These semiabstract works also foreground powerful mental and emotional states, but they do so by evoking murky inner worlds. Central to Untitled, 2015, a small, square work, is a rough, black oval whose thick, matte paint stands in relief against the canvas over a starburst of muddy pinks, oranges, and yellows. Many other works, such as Grief House, 2016, feature multiple pairs of eyes integrated into their backgrounds. Like Levonian’s faces, they appear to watch the viewer watching them, provoking thorny self-reflection.

Becky Huff Hunter