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Pilgrimage and How to Close a Tulip at TURN Gallery

Mary Corman, To the Whole, 2022. Oil on Linen, 12 x 9 in. Courtesy of TURN Gallery.

Pilgrimage and How to Close a Tulip 

TURN Gallery

October 26 through December 10, 2022 

By STEPHEN WOZNIAK, November 2022 

Two new, distinguished exhibitions, Pilgrimage and How to Close a Tulip, are now on view at TURN Gallery in New York City. 

Mary Corman’s Pilgrimage, her first solo exhibition in the Main Gallery, features a collection of modest, beautifully mottled, elegant paintings that ostensibly depict interior spaces. Yet, these works eschew architectural details in favor of the soft-handled oils that the artist employs to set the uncanny mood of each piece. The ten paintings in this show seem to be about a forgotten history and the passage of people who once occupied these mired rooms, throughways and courtyards. But they are much more than that. The subtle, earthen gradients that constitute the rounded geometry of each wall, entry and step create a formal interplay that open viewers to the timeless experience of looking, walking, and – perhaps most importantly – resting for a moment in their otherwise harried contemporary lives.  

One small painting, To The Whole, shows us a central passageway – a door to an indistinct evening landscape – which also seems to cast a low-luster light inward to the human-made assembly of curvy walls, arches and ceilings. Its parts – to the whole of the title – seem as equally important in the viewing of the work as the proverbial portal that the throughway provides. It reminds me of some of the middle period work of Georgia O'Keeffe, especially the exterior Ranchos Church paintings, which dealt less with pious Catholic themes than the wedding of land, sky and the integral, built forms that emerged organically from them.

Mary Corman, Almerico, 2022. Oil on Linen, 56 x 40 in. Courtesy of TURN Gallery.

Another Corman work, Almerico, a much larger oil-on-linen painting, shows us a long hallway in 1-point perspective, which leads to a central chamber that contains an empty fireplace – a power center of the home. The painting also notably sits above a real fireplace in the exhibition space. It’s hard to see what amounts to the beginning of the exterior and the end of the interior elements that make up the painting. I initially thought that the choice of the work’s title came from the Old High German name “Haimirich,” meaning, “ruler of the home, sovereign of the homeland.” It made me think about the inhabitants of these spaces. Who were these rulers and what happened in these rooms? It’s a mystery worth pondering to feel our own lives in the spaces that define the ancient, the eternal and the today. So drifts a critic’s mind when creating words that may warrant further investigation. I then discovered that Almerico actually refers to Paolo Almerico, the retired Vatican priest who designed the famous Villa La Rotonda – or dome – in his hometown of Vicenza, Italy, based on The Pantheon in Rome. The original symmetrical building was created so that each room is rotated forty-five degrees from cardinal compass points in order to receive sunlight throughout the day, something I’m certain helped the artist make fluid and soft tonal color wash choices in the painting. 

To create the paintings seen in the show, Corman made deliberate pilgrimages to La Rotonda and other architectural locations in Italy and France. It is an important part of her process to sit within the spaces and take a great variety of naturally lit photographs from which she later works to create watercolors, then paintings. While I feel that some titles of her pieces nudge us to research the original sites, this is not the artist’s ultimate goal. She’s here to strip down the settings depicted, remove the original inhabitants and faintly touch the past for us to take our own long-overdue personal journey of the spirit. 

Farshad Farzankia, Jin, Jiyan, Azadi #1, 2020. Watercolor, acrylic and oil on paper, 18.75 x 12.25 in. Courtesy of TURN Gallery.

In the TURN Parlour Room are eleven new painted works on paper and canvas by Danish-based Iranian artist Farshad Farzankia that make up his solo exhibition How to Close a Tulip. In contrast to the elusive, subdued tones and abstract forms of Corman, these works place bright, vibrant faces, wide-open eyeballs, flowers and fowl front and center for us to see. The tulip alluded to in the show title harkens back to its ancient Persian use in folklore, which represented martyred love. The first tulip is purported to have bloomed from the blood of fated lovers, Farhad and Shirin, in a tale similar to Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet. Born immediately after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Farzankia now lives in the time of the 2022 Iranian Revolution, a critical mass of resistance from prevalent gender apartheid and abhorrent morality policing that culminated in the murder of Mahsa Amini there in September.  

The titles of two Farzankia pieces in the show, Jin, Jiyan, Azadi #1 and Jin, Jiyan, Azadi #2 both translate into the new rallying call among women in the Middle Eastern region, “Women, Life, Freedom!” The works, made of watercolor, acrylic and oil paint on paper, are bold expressionist portraits of strong women that look squarely and unabashedly back at the viewer. The primary-colored, diagonal stripes that fill the heavy black outlines of the paintings seem to breath unmistakable life into each of the subjects, while what looks like a hovering third eye gives them an unshakeable knowing.

Installation view, TURN Gallery.

In Stashed Eyes from 2020, Farzankia presents two eyes – one larger than the other – discretely positioned between box shapes outlined in Yves Klein’s blue oil stick paint. The glowing swaths of yellow, orange and red, which brace the background, loosely mimic the formal curves and rectilinear compartments of the piece. Are these the eyes of women hidden or “stashed” behind a veil? Are the eyes spying on one another or do they tell us that our perception and those embroiled in the Mid-east conflicts are always changing in scale, position and intensity?

One of two large Farzankia paintings in the exhibition, How To Close a Red Tulip, painted in acrylic and oil on canvas, shows us what looks like the star-crossed princess and tradesman featured in the famous Persian folktale. Each is separated by a wide, black column of paint, while what looks like an egret or a curlew “messenger” bird above the tradesman, Farhad, mirrors a closed tulip, a signal that the deathly sacrifice for love is over. Below the princess’ pink crown is an inverted crimson crown, perhaps alluding to the overthrow of the oppressive king-father or powers-that-be, which had stamped out the humanity and love bristling to be set free.

Both the Corman and Farzankia solo exhibitions show well in the relatively new TURN Gallery space. The long, golden-hour shafts of light, which stream through stained glass windows in the galleries, caress and carry the hand-wrought works of each artist that are truly meant to reside in this intimate Upper East Side brownstone setting. 

Pilgrimage and How to Close a Tulip are on view at TURN Gallery from October 26 - December 10, 2022 in New York City. WM

Stephen Wozniak

Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: EnterpriseNCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: www.stephenwozniakart.com and www.stephenwozniak.com. Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.

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