Degrees of Separation: Kelly Chorpening and Natasha Sweeten

C.A.C.P. Gallery 

 

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 

professional artists. 

 

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.