An exhibition by Pheoris West and James Dupree at Dupree Gallery juxtaposes bodies of works that are undeniably compatible and life-affirming. Nevertheless, though both former Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts undergrads (West's MFA is from Yale; Dupree's from UPenn) have much in common, they are equally individualistic.
A couple of West's small acrylics, Protest (Jena 6) and Shame (Victim), show off his economical brushwork and solid compositions. Pencil studies of the same subjects reveal the artist, currently on leave from Ohio State University, in a more analytical but equally impressive mode.
West's self-described Afrocentrism plays out in spiritual and socially relevant subject matter. Although he utilizes historically European strategies and materials, his essentially conservative, functional view of art is miles from postmodern irony or conceptualism. His predilection for portraying idealized nude women might seem anachronistic, but the intention is to reference the first Mother, the African source of humanity. A large luminous figure composition, The Sway of Four Sisters — not nude but a nubile quartet — projects a kind of delicate energy as an essential life force.
Many Philadelphians know James Dupree's murals. In this show, smallish figurative digital prints are almost literally overshadowed by geometric abstractions that glitter like Mummers costumes — Cubist Mummers. In the Spirit of Brother C is characteristically tall and narrow (some works are can be hung either vertically or horizontally). Checkerboards mingle with angular patterning and one might find shapes and colors reminiscent of the sculpture of the late Charles Searles, to whom the work is dedicated, but the sumptuous, almost over-the-top surface beauty feels like the real tribute.
So, while West comfortably incorporates elements of abstraction into his narratives, Dupree in this recent body of work is more likely to interject bits of representation into mostly abstract compositions. Both men are infinitely sophisticated in the interface between the essentially abstract conventions of representation and the representational implications of abstraction. Both care about ideas and know how to make them easy on the eye.
Collaboration: Pheoris West and James Dupree
Through Dec. 31 Dupree Gallery 703 S. Sixth St., 215-413-3884, inliquid.com/gallery/dupree/dupree.html