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The Italians -- From South Philadelphia to Jersey City


Jersey City Museum opens an exhibition this winter by the American painter and printmaker Peter Paone entitled The Italians (January 14 ­ June 27, 2004), organized by guest curator, Professor Alejandro Anreus, William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ. 

The exhibition, consisting of works created between 1993 and 1997, re-imagines the artist's childhood in South Philadelphia's Italian-American neighborhood. The Italians is a loving a tribute, populated with relatives, friends and other characters. (right: Peter Paone, Gathering Figs, 1995, acrylic on panel, 40 x 40 inches, Courtesy of the artist)

Paone had tackled specific Italian American subject matter in his art only once before, in 1969, when he produced a portfolio of 11 lithographs dealing with his father's death. In 1993 a series of drawings led to a series of paintings, and by 1997 he had completed a body of work that not only captured physical types from the South Philly of his childhood, but also evoked a world long lost of parents and children and community rituals. 

The drawings are virtuoso statements of draftsmanship that range from the complex to the minimal, while the paintings are rich in color and open-ended, one might even say, poetic narratives. In paintings such as Gathering Figs, 1995, which depicts Paone as a child and his father with the family's fig tree, and in The Family Feeding,1993-94, the artist brings to life a world of close-knit, intergenerational family groups and dignified old-world traditions, preserved and transposed onto the new urban landscape of South Philadelphia.

Peter Paone was born in 1936 in Philadelphia, PA and grew up in the traditionally Italian neighborhood of South Philadelphia -- a world where English was a second language, and the institutions of family and community were strong. Paone's earliest artistic education was received at the Barnes Foundation in Merion,PA, which he attended in 1953-54. He graduated with a B.F.A. degree from the Philadelphia College of Art in 1958, and from 1966 to 1969 he pursued his study of the technique of miniature painting in London, England (Guggenheim Grant). Over the years Paone has taught at the Philadelphia College of Art and Pratt Institute, and since 1979, he has been on the faculty of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he has taught drawing, painting, coordinated the graduate program, and chaired the printmaking program.

Paone's work first gained national attention through Selden Rodman's 1960 book The Insiders. This book, long out of print, brought together an independent and idiosyncratic group of artists who were passionately committed to the human figure at the height of Abstract Expressionism. These artists' visions ranged from the psychological to the social, and their names were Orozco, Lebrun, Shahn, Baskin, Cuevas, and others. This is important, as Paone's work will be historically linked to the tradition of figuration and narrative of Social Realism. Paone has not had a museum exhibition of his work since 1983 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

The Italians remains on view at Jersey City Museum through June 27, 2004.  

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