Degrees of Separation: Kelly Chorpening and Natasha Sweeten
The Plain Dealer - Cleveland, Ohio
Degrees of Separation' reunites city with work of former art students
October 18, 2001
Page E6/Arts & Life
by Dan Tranberg
The work of recent graduates from area art departments shows up frequently at
galleries around town. But once artists leave Ohio, they often disappear from local
galleries at the same time.
That's one reason the current show "Degrees of Separation" at C.A.C.P. Gallery is
well worth a visit. It features the work of two painters who graduated from the Cleveland
Institute of Art in 1993, went off to graduate school, and then moved on to bigger cities.
But the show's impact comes more from the strength of the work than the artist's
biographies. As abstract painters who have remained friends since leaving Cleveland,
each responds to life in urban environments. Their approaches are vastly different, but
both give you the sense that city living is serving them well, and that their crowded
worlds are primary sources of inspiration.
Kelly Chorpening lived and worked in New York City until a few years ago,
when she married a British musician and moved to London. Her abstract cityscapes
reflect the structure of all big cities, packed with an assortment of blocky forms that are
stripped of detail and merge into singular pulsating entities.
Curvy highway ramps often provide an odd sense of relief in Chorpening's
paintings, implying that escape from the gridlocked masses of buildings is possible. On a
purely visual level too, they are a relief from the monotony of endless straight lines.
Perhaps most powerful in Chorpening's work is the way her paintings say something
about cities while remaining steadfastly concerned with issues traditionally associated
with abstract painting. Each of her seven paintings on view demonstrates a sophisticated
awareness of the interplay between the painted surface and its flat ground. In some, a
diagonal grid can be barely seen beneath her layers of paint, creating a sense that both the
city and the painting are governed by a hidden structure.
The paintings of Natasha Sweeten focus less on the feeling and appearance of
downtown streets, and more on the way shapes and forms seem to randomly butt up
against each other to create strange combinations.
Like Chorpening, Sweeten is acutely aware of her painting's surfaces and
frequently exploits a variety of techniques to highlight their physicality. Individual shapes
may be covered with heavily textural brushstrokes or made to appear perfectly smooth.
Others seem to be created by scraping the paint with a palette knife. The overall effect is
analogous to a diverse community of sorts, coexisting in a limited area.
Sweeten grew up in Lexington, Ky., and came to Cleveland to attend the institute
of art. After graduating, she moved to New York and attended the Milton Avery Graduate
School of the Arts at Bard College. After receiving her Master of Fine Arts degree, she
remained in New York, working in various galleries and as an assistant to several
Sweeten's approach to creating imagery in her paintings is less systematic than
Chorpening's. Rather than working off a grid, or the actual appearance of buildings, she
appears to intuitively generate shapes as individual subjects. Their relation to each other
is often as mysterious as the shapes themselves, yet somehow their combination conveys
the definite sense of a singular image.
In "Lawn Games" one can imagine the artist having a specific idea or image in her
mind, but there's no direct connection to it in the painting. The only way you feel it is by
the vaguely familiar sense that you are looking at an image in which the various parts
really do fit together, even if the overall logic of it is not plainly visible.
Looking over Sweeten's 13 paintings, it's easy to see that the artist responds to her
environment not by concocting a clear-cut intellectual hypothesis to guide her work, but
by painting shapes that feel right relative to her life and surroundings. The paintings feel
distinctly urban, like the random views we catch each day out of our peripheral vision.
Considering both the similarities and differences in Chorpening's and Sweeten's
work, "Degrees of Separation" is an uncommonly successful two-person show. Rather
than one outshining the other, the two artists provide a complex look at the way urban life
can and does inspire strong paintings.