Artists exchanges ideas, techniques in Seepages

Caroline Lathan-Stiefel, curator and participating artist for Seepages, invited six artist friends and colleagues from both Atlanta, where she used to live, and her present hometown of Philadelphia to join her in the exhibition at Whitespace Gallery. As the title suggests, ideas pass back and forth between artists, and techniques seep into one artist's work through connections with others.

Lathan-Stiefel and her colleagues share interests in collage techniques and Cubist juxtapositions of real objects and represented ones. Lathan-Stiefel contributes three-dimensional collages in the colorful manners of Jessica Stockholder and early Judy Pfaff. Found, recycled, and household objects combine into works that read as single units and bring to mind artist Sarah Sze. Lathan-Stiefel employs pipe cleaners, bits of fabric, bottle caps, and plastic bags as another artist would use paint: A line in her work might be made from a combination of yellow bottle caps and pompom balls. In "Roam," recycled plastic bags take on myriad banana-like forms and spew out of and across the wall to create a relief in red, white and black. Her works are like fishing nets filled with colorful retrieved treasures.

Atlantan John Otte's two collages, "Sugar and Shit," and "Jazzin'," are made from found printed matter and convey a surrealist feel. "Sugar and Shit" has as its background a map of New Orleans used by Prospect.1, a 2008 New Orleans biennial that contained few of the city's artists. A washed out living room filled with dirt and decay lies on top of the map, and, in the center, a reproduction from a painting of a window sticks up into space like the sail of a ship. Otte's complex layering of different realities produces the effect of bizarre cubist news photos.

Arden Bendler Browning also draws on a variety of visual languages and pushes everything into one space. In the huge "Blindspots," she uses opaque watercolor and Flashe, a flat and intensely saturated paint, on Tyvek in a compacted image that seems to include everything and the kitchen sink: It goes too far, but that's what makes the work memorable.

Equally large but less successful is "Smoke Drawing" by Ward Davenny and Kate Stewart, who use fire and soot as their media. This idea was fresh when Yves Klein made his fire paintings almost 50 years ago, and was explored further by John Cage in his smoke drawings, but Davenny and Stewart are inelegantly reinventing this particular wheel rather than doing anything new with it.

Thomas Vance makes creative use of faux wood-grain patterns in lovingly handcrafted two- and three-dimensional works that recall the ironic, deadpan humor of early Warhol and Lichtenstein. Imagine Mondrian using drawn wood grain instead of painted squares.

In its entirety, Seepages resembles one of Lathan-Stiefel's assemblages: The work of each artist, like each found element in one of her pieces, both takes its place in an overall arrangement and contrasts provocatively with the other works around it. And in turn, the world around us resembles Seepages, a hodgepodge of systems, all interconnected.