Art in Town

Art in the Workplace

Art by the River

Area Museums

Campus Arts

Art In Trenton

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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the May 15, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Transformative & Complex Portraits

As a youngster, Rachel Bliss says she drew all the

time. And when she enrolled as a scholarship student at the


Academy of Fine Arts in 1985, she brought her drawings along with


"I arrived at the academy with sketchbooks full of drawings,"

says Bliss, " — portraits of people I liked, portraits from

photographs, portraits of my heroes, and imaginary portraits."

Heads and faces had always held a special appeal to her, a fact she

is tempted to attribute to growing up under the watchful gaze of her

parents’ collection of American Indian and African masks. "For

me, it’s something intuitive and primal to make portraits," says

the artist who also observes: "I am committed to making art that

has integrity and is powerfully beautiful."

Morpeth Gallery in Hopewell is hosting a solo show by Bliss titled

"Portraits" that opened May 11 and runs to June 8. The artist

will give a talk on her work at the gallery on Saturday, May 18, at

3 p.m.

The word "portrait" has nowhere near the muscle to


Bliss’s extensive collection of paintings on view here. While it’s

true that most works here comprise a pair of limpid eyes, a nose,

and a mouth of some sort, these elements are only the point of


for the artist who captures her subject’s "portrait" in all

its complexity — often the one lurking beneath the veneer of


A 20-year resident of Philadelphia — mostly in gritty North Philly

— Bliss paints with an intensity that is almost frightening. Her

energetic compositions feel like one of those city excavation sites

symptomatic of a crumbling infrastructure. Her commanding figures

emerge from surfaces that are painted, drawn, scraped, grimed, and

dug. From this grounding in a layered environment we meet fantastical

figures, some of whom fall into recognizable categories — be it

monster or clown. Faces, it is true, are often portrayed with almost

classical clarity. Yet be prepared for the portrait head of a young

girl worn on a sheep’s body that is diagramed for butchering.

Raised in a family of working artists and designers, Bliss says she

sees her art making, "not as a luxury but a necessity." The

mother of three children under 12, Bliss has worked as a counselor

to victims of sexual assault and used her art as a political tool

to empower city residents. In making portraits of family, friends,

and acquaintances, she wants to document a society in all its


complexity. "It is important that my sitters have a voice,"

she says. "I focus on the face because I think it best reveals

the subject’s inner life."

Born in 1962, Bliss grew up in Rochester, New York, in a large family

where, she says, "everyone drew." Her father and mother met

as students at the Philadelphia Museum School, and moved to Rochester

to join his brother in the graphic design firm, Studio Five Graphics.

The firm became quite successful, with no particular distinction made

between high art and commercial art. Both parents continue to paint

today, and all four of their children — Rachel and three brothers

— work in the arts, one primarily in education.

Bliss came to Philadelphia when her youngest brother and uncle’s


Harry Bliss, was a student at the University of the Arts. (He has

since found significant success as a New Yorker cover artist, a


and children’s book illustrator.) Her subsequent choice of a classical

education at the Pennsylvania Academy has proved rewarding. She


her "great" instructors Arthur DeCosta and Bruce Samuelson

for leading her through the maze to find her own voice.

"I went there to study, I went there thinking I was going to get

something I didn’t have," says Bliss, "And I cried a lot."

One day she fretted to her teacher: "I can’t get my ideas across.

He put his arm on my shoulder and he said: `Rachel, you have no


It was a revelation. "I learned that I didn’t have to be attached

to what was going to happen, but I had to have intention when I


Gradually, she learned that she didn’t have to draw

like every — or even any — other student. Her line was her

own. "I was struggling with my own perception versus reality —

and struggling with perception versus representation."

Bliss came into her own with a solid grounding in figurative painting.

It is, of course, her mastery of traditional art practices that allows

her to flaunt all the rules. Working fearlessly with whatever media

she has at hand — acrylics, pencil, wax crayon, nail polish, or

soot — her transgressive, beautiful images are conjured on the

surface of cast-off linoleum tile, Masonite, photographic paper, or

sheet metal. The effect is something like a scavenger’s treasure


The show includes a whole wall of Bliss’s playful miniature portraits

— dozens of them — all different, quirky, and original, all

painted on three-inch-square tiles.

Bliss had a major show at Rider University in 1997, curated by James

Dickinson of the sociology department, and titled "A State of

Bliss." Her work has been featured at Malcolm Bray’s annual


at Old English Pine in Lambertville. She was also featured last fall

in a two-artist show at Mercer Community College, with Barbara


titled "Liminal Spirits."

"Bliss draws on an energy and a spirit that is both accessible

and dark," says Tricia Fagan, curator at MCCC. "There’s


almost subterranean about her imagery. She takes lives of people that

she lives among — people she relates to personally — and where

some would see aspects of these lives that are sad or depressing,

she transforms them. She provides a transformative look at the full

picture, a picture that includes all the humor and color and rich

textures of a human being."

With so many ties to graphic design and illustration, her family


her to work in the field. She has received commissions for editorial

illustration from publications that include the New York Times, the

New Yorker, Time Magazine, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Bliss says

she works from life when she can; yet even when she has a subject

sit for her, she supplements the sitting with photographs that she

takes herself.

In addition to a gallery of characters, young and old, dark and light,

rich and poor, the show includes several explicit self-portraits.

In "Mine," we see a woman with a voluptuous face wearing a

little cone cap who is brandishing a broad raised sword. Her torso

is bloodied with three wounds, yet she seems to have succeeded in

decapitating a leering monster that flies through the air above her.

While working in the fabled tradition of Durer and Rembrandt, her

effect is more closely allied to Francis Bacon or Frida Kahlo.

Asked about her interest in self-portraiture, Bliss invokes the


and discipline it requires. Beyond that, she is typically understated:

"If you want to work from life, there are not a lot of people

who are going to sit for you," she says, "but you’re always

going to be there."

— Nicole Plett

Rachel Bliss, Morpeth Gallery, 43 West Broad Street,

Hopewell, 609-333-9393. Artist’s gallery talk for the show that runs

to June 8. Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, noon

to 5 p.m. Free. Saturday, May 18, 3 p.m.

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Art in Town

Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street,


Deborah Almeida Land and Madelaine Shellaby, recent work. To May 24.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158

Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "From Tow Path to Bike Path:


and the Delaware and Raritan Canal," an exhibition that looks

at the history and creation of the canal, and more recent


and preservation issues. Open Tuesday to Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

Phil Kramer Gallery, 72 Witherspoon Street, 609-497-1600.

Photographer Phil Kramer’s benefit show, "Heroes Among Us."

Kramer spent five months traveling around Princeton community


people who give of themselves through humanitarian efforts,


actions, or selfless public service. Admission to exhibit is $15,

donated to one of the charities honored in exhibit. To June 1.

Police, firefighters, conseling services, family services, government

organizations are among the groups represented and profiled in the

exhibit. Open Tuesday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.

to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-4377.

"The SoHo Blues," Allan Tannenbaum’s show of images of Bruce

Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Keith Richards, as well as

his 1980 photos of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. To June 3.

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Art in the Workplace

Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Route 206, Lawrenceville,

609-252-6275. "Mind-Body," an invitational group exhibition

of works by artists who explore the subject of science and medical

technology using such tools as MRI, X-rays, and microscopic


Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and weekends

and holidays, 1 to 5 p.m. To June 23.

Exhibiting artists from New Jersey are Abbie Bagley-Young, Catherine

Bebout, Janet Filomeno, Eileen Foti, Frances Heinrich, Maria Lupo,

Tim Trelease, and Debra Weier. Also featured: Rick Bartow, Justine

Cooper, Irina Nalchova, Fredericka Foster Shapiro, Marina Guitierrez,

Jeanne Jaffe, and Inigo Manglano-Ovalle.

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Art by the River

Artists’ Gallery, 32 Coryell Street, Lambertville,


"Blood, Sweat and Roadkill," a shared show featuring collages

by Stacie Speer Scott and copper and bronze sculpture by Bernard


Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To June 2.

Artsbridge, Canal Studios, 243 North Union Street,


609-773-0881. Group show by Jill Biros, John Boyd, Sheila Coutin,

Catherine DeChico, Marianne Ham, Donald Henderson, Don Jordon, Carol

Magnatta, Jeane Nielsen, and Bill Smith. Thursday to Sunday, noon

to 6 p.m. To June 2.

Atelier Gallery, 108 Harrison Street, Frenchtown,


"Layers of Time and Space," an exhibit of works on paper


by Barry Snyder and featuring Diana Gonzalez Gandolfi, Margaret K.

Johnson, and Joan B. Needham. Gallery is open Thursday to Sunday,

noon to 5 p.m. To May 27.

Canal Frame-Crafts Gallery, 1093 General Greene Road,

Washington Crossing, 215-862-2021. "Canal Impressions," juried

exhibit of art inspired by the Delaware Canal, sponsored by the


of the Delaware Canal. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5

p.m., and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. To May 25.

Coryell Gallery, 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville,


Annual Spring Exhibition features pastels by Nancy Silvia and


by Charles R. Ross. Open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To May


Goldsmiths Gallery, 26 North Union Street, Lambertville,

609-397-4590. Solo exhibition of silver prints by multi-media artist

Victor Macarol. "My images are gently humorous, often ambiguous,

vignettes on the foibles of humans and other living creatures who

are desperately fighting for survival in an impersonal world,"

says Macarol. The artist is recipient of a New Jersey State Council

on the Arts distinguished artist award. To June 15.

Phillips’ Mill Photography Exhibition, River Road, New

Hope, 215-396-7040. 10th annual show, juried by Sandra Davis, Jeff

Hurwitz, and Laurence Miller, features 130 images selected from a

field of 700. Open 1 to 5 p.m. daily. $3. To June 2.

Robert Beck Painting Studio, 21 Bridge Street,


609-397-5679. "Light Conversation," an exhibition of new work

by Robert Beck. By appointment to June 2.

Tin Man Alley, 12 West Mechanic Street, New Hope,


"Play It Cool," an exhibition of new and rare prints by


artist Shag. Gallery hours are Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to

6 p.m. To May 27.

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Area Museums

American Hungarian Foundation Museum, 300 Somerset Street,

New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "From the Old World to the New


an exhibit of recent additions to the museum collection featuring

works by nine Hungarian Americans, all of whom emigrated to the U.S.

between 1920 and 1957. Artists are Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Bertha and

Elena De Hellenbranth, Sandor Sugor, Emil Kelemen, Willy Pogany, Tibor

Gergely, Zoltan Poharnok, and Vicent Korda; to April, 2003. Also,

original art and text from the book "Light From the Yellow Star,

A Lesson of Love from the Holocaust" by Robert O. Fisch. To June

9. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and


1 to 4 p.m. $5 donation.

Cornelius Low House Museum, 1225 River Road, Piscataway,

732-745-4177. "Uncommon Clay: New Jersey’s Architectural Terra

Cotta Industry," an exhibition of artifacts and written and oral

histories of New Jersey’s once booming architectural ceramics


Open Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.

On view to May 30, 2003.

Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown,

215-340-9800. Bucks County Invitational V, the annual show of


works features Vincent Ceglia and Lisa Manheim, paintings; sculpture

by Karl Karhuma; and the photography of Claus Mroczynski; to July

7. Outdoors, a group of minimalist sculptures by Maria A. Hall, to

June 30. Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday &

Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m. $6.

Zimmerli Art Museum, George and Hamilton streets, New

Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "India: Contemporary Art From


Private Collections," the largest exhibition of its kind to be

held in an American museum. Show features more than 100 works from

20 collections, with an emphasis on the post-independence era, 1947

to the present. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to

4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission $3 adults;

under 18 free; museum is open free to the public on the first Sunday

of every month. To July 31.

Indian artists include members of the Progressive Artists Group, F.N.

Souza, M.F. Husain, Krishna Ara, and Syed Raza. Also first and


Indian modernists Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, Ganesh Pyne, and artists

who have emerged in recent years such as Atul Dodiya and Jitish


Area Galleries

Extension Gallery, 60 Sculptors Way, Mercerville,


Sculpture, drawings, and paintings by Hyung Jun Yum. Gallery hours

are Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To May 30.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, 609-333-8511.

"Window Works" by Marilyn Anderson, black-and-white cityscapes

taken in London, Dublin, Rome, Prague, and New York. Also "Thirty

Plus Years of Imaging Snow" by Jay Goodkind, enhanced montage

prints of snowscapes photographed over three decades. Gallery hours

are Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. To May 26.

Hopewell Frame Shop, 24 West Broad Street, Hopewell,


Solo exhibition of Sandra Nusblatt’s watercolors, "From Hopewell

to the Jersey Shore." Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;

Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To June 28.

Louisa Melrose Gallery, 41 Bridge Street, Frenchtown,

908-996-1470. "Ed X 3," an exhibit by painters Ed Baumlin,

Ed Bronstein, and Ed Letven. Open Wednesday & Thursday, 11 a.m. to

5 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

To June 10.

Montgomery Center for the Arts, 1860 House, 124 Montgomery

Road, 609-921-3272. "Words & Pictures of the Vietnam War,"

a prizewinning exhibition of photographs by the late Steven H. Warner,

a Montgomery resident killed in Vietnam in 1971. Produced by


College and the Pennsylvania Humanities group, the exibit appeared

at the Smithsonian Institute in 1995. In the Upstairs Gallery: Hetty

Baiz, watercolors, pastels, and mixed media. Both shows to May 31.

Warner, whose father was a judge in Montgomery Township, attended

Montgomery and Princeton Schools in the 1960s. After graduating from

Gettysburg College and attending Yale, he was drafted in 1969. During

his three years in Vietnam, he photographed soldiers and wrote about

what he saw; both pay homage to the soldiers there. Warner was killed

in an ambush in February, 1971.

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Campus Arts

Princeton University Art Museum, 609-258-3788.


Van Dyck: `Ecce Homo’ and `The Mocking of Christ.’" Also, "In

the Mirror of Christ’s Passion: Images from Princeton University


Both shows to June 9. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5

p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free tours of the collection every Saturday

at 2 p.m.

Also "Klinger to Kollwitz: German Art in the Age of


an exhibit of prints and drawings that comprises an overview of late

19th and early 20th century German art, to June 9. "Contemporary

Views: Photographs by Paul Berger, Sarah Charlesworth, Barbara Ess,

and Ray K. Metzker," to May 26. "American Drawings and


to July 21. "Guardians of the Tomb: Spirit Beasts in Tang Dynasty

China;" to September 1.

Firestone Library, Milberg Gallery, Princeton University,

609-258-3184. "Heroic Pastorals: Images of the American


Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and

Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Hall Gallery, 20

Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Natural Rhythms Stilled," an

exhibition of photographs by John Hess, a photographer and biology

professor at Central Missouri State University. Monday to Saturday,

8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2 to 8 p.m. To June 28.

Rider University Art Gallery, Student Center, Route 206,

Lawrenceville, 609-896-5168. Annual exhibition of works by Rider

students in all mediums. Monday to Thursday, 2 to 8 p.m.; Friday to

Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m. To August 11.

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Art In Trenton

Capital Health System, Mercer Campus, Trenton,


Princeton Photography Club exhibit of both color and black-and-white

photography including nature photography, double exposures, still

life, landscapes, and portraits. In the main lobby, to June 14.


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