NY Arts Magazine Art Review: Sky Pape at June Kelly Gallery

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Illuminated Brush Strokes
Review by Pamela A. Popeson, NY Arts Magazine, March 2004

You know the feeling you get standing under a star-studded night sky? A sky where you can see nothing but stars from horizon to horizon and easily even pick out the Milky Way? Where all at once you’re struck by the overwhelming enormity of life and the unsubstantial fragility of your own puny existence? Where you want to weep at the inconceivable beauty of life? Where you’re breathing all but stops because it’s breaking your heart, this bittersweet-ness, while pulling it wide open to let in more? Well, that’s pretty much the feeling you get standing in a room surrounded by artist Sky Pape’s new works on paper currently on exhibit in the June Kelly Gallery.

In the exhibit titled “Behind the Seen: Saturated Ink Drawings” there are ten larger mounted pieces and a number of smaller drawings and you want to take in everything these pictures have to give. It’s inspiring and it’s illuminating and then somehow everything turns and you’re the vulnerable one, you’re the naked one. Besides the universal truths there’s personal truths being revealed and as it turns out they’re not just Pape’s they’re yours too.

Her past work has often reflected an Eastern sensibility and for these new drawings she use Japanese hake brushes, anywhere from five to seven inches across, to saturate sheets of kozo paper with sumi ink. “By going into the paper, behind and underneath the surface, the drawing gains a unique kind of physicality-seeking out what lies beyond the surface appearances…” says Pape when speaking about the effects of her ink saturation technique. Through a series of sweeping brush strokes that show both meditative restraint and flights of freedom Pape creates abstract patterns that evoke an intensely personal sense of the knowing and understanding of the universal landscape of the spiritual.

When an artist seeks to uncover truths, designedly spiritual or not, there’s always the danger of exposing dogmatic doctrine and contrived schemes of religiosity instead. There is no need to worry about that here. Pape reveals a purity of vision through an honest exploration of personal truths. There’s no preaching of prepackaged utopian paths, just pure art speaking from soul to soul.

The two largest pieces in the show Thesis and Antithesis, which face each other from a distance across the gallery as if from across time, share a rhythm and balance that builds upon itself drawing us into their centers. They bring to mind the sublime movement of two martial arts masters of the highest order only you are both standing outside as a witness to the sublime and gone inside having become the very essence of it. In Insight, a construction of several smaller adjoined panels, the patterns created by the brushwork suggests Paleozoic ammonites, evoking all the mysteries of nature inherent in those ancient forms. In another drawing, Guru, it seems one can hear the visionary voices of some half destroyed stone Buddha from the jungle of Angor Wat whispering secrets through Pape’s great lines the way the sun sends light filtering through the leaves of a great tree or the slats of a palace venetian blind.

In what is considered by many a time of spiritual bankruptcy the visionary Pape fills the coffers and throws open the doors to the vaults on pure art that speaks honest truths. And she does it brilliantly. The exhibit “Behind the Seen: Saturated Ink Drawings” runs from December 12 through January 13th 2004. The June Kelly Gallery is located at 591 Broadway and at www.junekellygallery.com.