Erin M. Riley, Undressing 2
“In and Out” at Paradigm Gallery is far from a perfect exhibition. The weavings of Erin M. Riley and cutouts of Joe Boruchow do not complement each other well, and the salon-style nature in which the many works are hung on the slender corridor-like architecture of Paradigm Gallery causes a cacophonous aesthetic claustrophobia. But it’s a testament to the originality of each artist that this shouldn’t stop anyone from going out to see it. Individual works, especially Riley’s woven still lifes of contraband erotic portraits, are able to shine despite the disadvantages of display.
It isn’t hard to see why someone thought a Riley/Boruchow matchup might work. The two artists have all the makings of a fabulous odd couple — the name of the exhibition even hints at this.
The “out” would be Boruchow, who makes some of the most original graffiti in the city today. Readers who spend any amount of time walking Philly streets have likely seen his work around: starkly graphic (sometimes in subject matter as well as composition) black-and-white wheatpastes tastefully adapted to the walls and mailboxes they adorn.
In contrast, Riley’s woven tapestries, just in their medium alone, are the epitome of the idea of “inside.” Weaving has traditionally been women’s work, carrying with it the weight of years of domestic servitude.
Independently, each artist has sharpened a well-honed oeuvre that works well on its own — but they don’t work well together. The old “opposites attract” adage is not in effect here.
Bringing Boruchow’s work inside clips the wings of its creativity. What’s on display — framed black paper cutouts that are the starting point for the artist’s wheatpastes — is interesting for anyone interested in process, but could never stand alone without the knowledge of the piece as it looks hanging free and often larger in the outside world.
In contrast, Riley’s work shines on its own turf. Her work utilizes the stereotypes involved with the craft of weaving and folds them back in on themselves through the subject matter she tackles: She weaves images of females getting undressed for the camera, whether taking a “selfie” or for images that seem more like something posted to the Internet as “revenge porn.” It could be a feminist one-liner, but her works are elevated past that level by their undeniable beauty as objects.
The tour de force of “In and Out” is a 42” x 33” hand-woven wool tapestry entitled History 20 that depicts a scene slightly outside Riley’s usual repertoire. Jagged tire tracks streak across an empty section of tree-lined highway, giving just enough narrative for rubbernecking art patrons to fill in the blanks of a story fraught with bad decisions and decadent drunken encounters. For those who wish to investigate more, almost directly across from this work (the largest on display) is a smaller weaving dubbed Alone Again that portrays the smoldering wreck of a car on a similar stretch of highway.
Ultimately, the reasons why “In and Out” doesn’t work — why Riley and Boruchow shouldn’t show together, and why Boruchow needs to figure out a way to exhibit his work indoors that translates the whimsy of his outside installations — aren’t important. “In and Out” is still an exhibition by local artists that should be seen. Whether made for the great indoors or serving as a reminder of the freedom of working with the world as your canvas, works of both artists are well-formed in both focus and craft, and the two will only grow in popularity.
Through Oct. 12, Paradigm Gallery, 803 S. Fourth St., 267-266-0073, paradigm-gallery.com.