The Bulletin

Pencil-and-Gouache At Pentimenti Contrasts The Natural With The Constructed.
By Melinda Steffy
November 8, 2007

Philadelphia - If you only have time for a brief art ramble this week, be sure to stop by Pentimenti Gallery and take a look at Rebecca Rothfus' drawings in the Project Room.

The seven pencil-and-gouache landscapes in "Towers" pull together contrasting elements of human construction and natural landforms, balancing delicate details with flat colors and a blank-paper wash of sky. They exist comfortably as individual pieces, but in the close proximity in the small Project Room, they meld into a distorted urban landscape of radio towers and indistinguishable vistas.

Each drawing features at least one exquisitely rendered tower of the radio/electrical/telephone variety. Ms. Rothfus pencils in meticulous beams, bars, cables, lights and satellite dishes. Jutting up into an empty sky, the towers stand as monuments to the whole of modern communications, venerable signal-carriers that make possible the pervasive technology on which North American life thrives. In these landscapes, they stand alone, dominating an otherwise detail-less scene.

Using the matte colors of gouache, Ms. Rothfus outlines the faintest hint of background, positioning the towers as the only "real" elements amongst flattened trees and windowless buildings. Although the shapes suggest forested hillsides or protruding branches, the bland puce color immediately abstracts the form, removing it from human experience. Brick red cubes squat on the horizon, buildings without character or context. Flat slate blue bands traverse the edges of the drawings as roads or rivers. In this aggressively geometrized nature, the familiar geometry of the human-constructed towers appears graceful, gentle, and yet somehow out-of-place.

These drawings are both landscapes and not-landscapes. They present horizon and distance, but do so wholly in support of the individual towers, making the drawings feel more like portraits of important dignitaries. Ms. Rothfus constructs a strange world where usually overlooked infrastructure holds a central position, while oft-admired natural or architectural landscapes vanish. Optimism and romanticism give way to a blatant realism as the structures that support fast-paced human lifestyles appear to hold more meaning, more importance than the environment in which humans actually live. Perhaps in Ms. Rothfus' work, the familiar pillars of urban dwelling and suburban sprawl receive the recognition that they really deserve.

If you have a little more time for browsing, look around at Pentimenti's other current show, "From a Thousand Pages." This assortment of works by three artists is similarly cognizant of contemporary life and innovative in its treatment of paper (hence the show's title). Glenn Fischer collages oval cutouts from books and magazines into stream-of-consciousness images with layers of surreal relationships. From a distance, the pieces look like abstract explorations of color and space, but closer examination reveals a dream-like, non-sequential narrative of obscured images. Matt Haffner continues Lichtenstein's tradition of dramatic comic book figures with his own film noir narrative and richly textured imagery. Recurring characters and a monochromatic color palette give the feeling of looking at a splice of black-and-white film. Nate Moore organizes colorful origami jets into rigid formations with underlying grids, simultaneously suggesting military squadrons, handicrafts, and the formal explorations of modern art. Both "From a Thousand Pages" and "Towers" are worth a good long look, if you can squeeze it in.