Roberta Eisenberg, spiritual expressionist

Oil on canvas by Roberta Eisenberg in a retrospective of her work at University of the Arts: Lots of movement, veils of color, color changes.
Oil on canvas by Roberta Eisenberg in a retrospective of her work at University of the Arts: Lots of movement, veils of color, color changes.

A UArts retrospective of painterly abstracts by a Phila.-born artist.

Posted: October 21, 2011

Roberta Eisenberg (1940-2006) spoke of her painterly abstracts as "a territory to explore." And so they are, some of them very large indeed, in "Roberta Eisenberg Retrospective" at the University of the Arts. Its subject is the work of a gifted alumna, a former scholarship student whose name lives on in the Roberta Eisenberg Scholarship Fund.

Eisenberg was born in Philadelphia to art-loving parents; her mother, Florence Treatman, helped make Cheltenham Art Center one of the region's most dynamic neighborhood centers in the 1960s. While pursuing her bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of the Arts, Eisenberg studied with Louis Finkelstein and Mercedes Matter and by her early 20s was on her way to her basic approach as a painter. She looked to such pioneers as Arshile Gorky and Philip Guston, and was not swayed by trends, perhaps because she was both intuitive and a thinker.

Her marriage, three daughters, and a time in Boston before settling permanently in California in 1978 didn't change that. Eisenberg flourished there, continuing her painterly dialogue with the canvas by showing lots of movement, veils of color, and color changes from deepest depths to lyrical and high key.

Of particular interest is the book accompanying the show, which asserts that Eisenberg's mature work places her in the tradition of expressionist painting, with emphasis on its abstract spiritual "arm." The fully illustrated 228-page book, published by University of the Arts, convincingly elaborates on why Eisenberg deserves to be known chiefly as a spiritual expressionist.

This exhibition thoughtfully adds weight and prestige to the regional art scene and encourages artists and the public to look beyond both regionalism and doctrinaire abstraction toward ways of reusing the recent past and maintaining continuity as well as embracing the new.


University of the Arts' Hamilton Hall in Hamilton & Aronson Galleries, 320 S Broad St. To Nov. 2. Mon-Fri 10-5, Sat 10-1. Free. 215-717-6481.

Mountain men

Sculptor and painter Fred J. Carter (1911-92) was a rare spirit who infused everything he did with personal intimacy. A good artist who succeeded through natural talent and a great deal of hard work, he's the dominant figure in a four-person show at Indigo Arts Gallery with the unifying title "Appalachian Visionaries."

Carter, who ran a hardware store in Clintwood, Va., until he became a full-time artist in his 50s, belonged to a restive generation. He showed willingness to confront social realities of his day, and to mold its political consciousness into artistic form - evident in his carved wooden figures with their rugged resonance and appealing textures portraying some of his heroes, and in paintings coldly limning the harsh conditions of miners' lives.

There's a vital aesthetic power in physically vernacular, nonacademic artwork like Carter's, which Indigo specializes in giving its voice. Real human drama emerges in the genuine originality of his carvings.

With Carter is a squad of talents from the southern Virginia/eastern Tennessee region whom he influenced. While Ollie Cox, Shawn Crookshank, and D.R. Mullins share an insistently naive approach to painting, each displays wildly individualized work in this show, which does much to further our understanding of naif art.


Indigo Arts Gallery, Crane Arts Building, 1400 N. American St. To Nov. 5. Wed-Sat noon-6. Free. 215-765-1041.

Russian realist

Serge Zhukov, a Russian painter trained in St. Petersburg and now a Bucks County resident, shows realist oils of snowy landscapes and ballet dancers' practice sessions at F.A.N. Gallery. These and his figure drawings give us an easy sense of his subjects' reality, but it's the delicate mix of senses and substance that imbues the oils with an air of uncontrived refinement, while their milky hues set the spirit that appeals to the sophisticated eye.
F.A.N. Gallery, 221 Arch St. To Oct. 29. Wed-Sun noon-6. Free. 215-922-5155.

Home turf

Christopher Windle, a 1982 Tyler School of Art grad and lifelong Philadelphian, shows unpeopled, humble North Philly neighborhood subjects in his show "Philadelphia: Scene Yet Unseen" at Gallery 51. Reality is intensified in these tenderly and carefully done oils, in which Windle satisfies us with his accomplishment rather than exciting us with his vision. His distinctive handling of both light and color patterns enhances the framework of his works' design. There's a superabundance of detail, but it's all skillfully subdued to the totality of design. A promising first solo.
Gallery 51, 51 N. 2d St. To Oct. 31. Tue-Sat 11-6. Free. 215-413-3191.

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