It is hardly surprising that a contemporary artist should look to the forlorn margins of the city for her subject matter. But what is quite surprising is what Curran does with the unruly objects she finds, which is to organize them into spare and elegant compositions whose most striking trait is their impeccable sense of formal order.
- Michael Lewis on Joan Curran
A Quick Look at Curran's Home and Studio
Albany State Legislature, Albany, NY
Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR
Astra Zeneca Corporation
Ballinglen Arts Foundation, Ireland
Chattahoochee Valley Art Association, Lamar Dodd Museum, LaGrange, GA
The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA
First USA Bank, Wilmington, DE
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
LaGrange College, LaGrange, GA
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA
Print and Picture Collection, Philadelphia Free Library, Philadelphia, PA
Sheraton Resort Hotel, Bal Harbour, FL
Sterling Winthrop Pharmaceuticals, Collegeville, PA
Summy-Birchard Music Corporation, Princeton, NJ
Vanderbilt Medical University, Nashville, TN
The Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA
June 28, 2015
By Edith Newhall
Seraphin Gallery smartly asked one of its artists, Hiro Sakaguchi, to organize a summer show.
The result, “Debris,” was likely initially inspired by the work of two other Seraphin artists, Joan Wadleigh Curran, who paints still lifes of debris she finds in Philadelphia, and Kelly Wallace, an artist based in London, Ontario, whose pencil drawings depict real and imagined landscapes that appear composed of mountains of rubble and houses in the process of ruination. But with the additions of Brent Wahl, Sherif Habashi, and himself, Sakaguchi offers a broader view of the stuff that piles up, including memories.
Wadleigh Curran’s four paintings, all from 2015, show her using more colors together, painting more expressionistically, and portraying odder perspectives of windblown trash.
I’d seen Wahl’s photographs of debris arranged on black surfaces before (they’re all from 2012), but they certainly belong in this show. His careful organizations of the trash and refuse he finds and collects at various sites in the city elevate these castoffs to a mysterious beauty.
At first, Sherif Habashi’s calligraphic paintings on paper struck me as the least debris-related of the works in this show, because his lines are so delicate and reminiscent of Sufi painting. But the expressionistic doodles he paints also have something in common with hobo symbols and graffiti. And his faint Self-portrait with cinderblock motif looks like an impression, something left behind.
Sakaguchi’s paintings hadn’t ever made me think specifically of debris until I saw his painting and drawing in this show, both titled Preparation for Spring. In both, what appear to be cherry trees wrapped in burlap waiting to be planted are plonked atop an urban landscape reduced to a rubble of infrastructure that includes children’s toys. It suggests a child’s memory of an event as revisited years later in a nightmare. The atmosphere is Pepto-Bismol pink, thick with dust, and undoubtedly toxic.
Though tiny and rendered in pencil, Wallace’s similarly ominous drawing of imploding row-houses, Sticks nstones, also seems to have emanated from a child’s view of a long-ago event.
Joan Wadleigh Curran Gives New Life to the Forgotten in Accumulation at Seraphin Gallery
December 30, 2012
Joan Waldeigh Curran’s exhibition Accumulation, at Seraphin Gallery until Feb. 3, 2013, showcases her unique still life compositions consisting of plant life and the discarded and overlooked object: trash.
Curran’s colorful gouache paintings on black paper are composed of discarded items from three different locales: A Wyoming quarry, the coasts of Ballycastle, Ireland and the streets of Philadelphia. Curran’s paintings elevate everyday junk removed from its exterior context and arranged by the artist to create striking compositions. The work discusses the value system humans use to deem things unworthy of possession but does so without being an environmental critique. Instead, her work serves as a larger statement about humanity and challenges our notions of beauty and merit.
The works from each series are integrated and spread throughout the gallery. While walking through the exhibition, I found myself most drawn to the pieces that are fuller in composition, which read less as simple object studies and more as fully realized paintings. Recognizable by the presence of brightly colored turquoise rope, most of these works belong to the series from Ballycastle in which Curran collected objects that had washed up on the shores of Ireland and compiled these various bits of debris into still lifes.
There are multiple visual and conceptual parallels present in all of Curran’s work in Accumulation, especially present are the binaries found in the Ballycastle series. These discarded objects often consist of fibrous shapes painted in grippingly saturated color and rendered with a fluidity that mimics the environment from which they were plucked. The debris which makes up “Unraveled, Ballinglen,” a landscape-like composition, is riddled with flowing forms and it is unclear at first glance which elements are natural sea life and which are manmade garbage. These forms intertwine as if they belonged together. They have been removed from their watery world and thrown into the unexpected context of still life, transitioned from ocean to land. The orange of the plant life and the teal of the synthetic rope complement each other in form and color. These Ballycastle works memorialize both the synthetic and natural elements from the coast, treating them not as dead forms but rather as neglected objects given new purpose.
In all of the works present in Accumulation, Curran gives new life to forgotten form. The orange plastic left from a construction site is given new use in “Notice,” part of the Philadelphia Urban Trash series. The wire fence is unraveled and intertwined with twigs, displaying a congruency of the manmade object and nature. “Orange Fence and Rope” is likewise a portrait of Philadelphia trash that offers a new existence to derelict objects.
Currans exhibition asks complex questions through simple still life. She asks us to examine our value system and our preconceived views of merit and she shows us the “worthless” in a new light. Curran’s work anthropomorphizes what we call garbage in a manner that spurs a deeper investigation into the cycle of life of an object.
By Naomi Ekperigin
By Edith Newhall
April 4, 2010
Joan Wadleigh Curran has always drawn beautifully; now her paintings are catching up.
In Curran's latest one-person exhibition at Seraphin Gallery, her paintings are less tentative than they used to be, and her color, previously forlorn, has become warmer and bolder. Her images of nature living within urban decay now seem almost celebratory.
Several of Curran's new paintings also depict recognizable scenes, rather than glimpses of man-made object and nature circling each other in a metaphoric standoff. This time around, nature, previously shown pushing for dominion, seems to have the upper hand. Rehabilitation - Juniata's Garden is not the carefully composed picture Curran used to make; in it, various cacti and succulents create their own imperfect, extravagant composition. The only man-made objects - an orange plastic milk crate, a hose, and some stacks of pots - are relegated to the ground and background of this scene. Two large paintings of fenced areas, Protection (2010) and Trapped (2007), show no nature to speak of, only the failure of the man-made barrier.
Debris (2009), one of the few paintings here that does not depict a scene, is a still life of milkweed pods, sticks, and cactus branches encircled by a rope that recalls Northern European vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Curran's charcoal drawings and gouache paintings on paper are as exquisitely delicate as ever.