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BIG APPLE IN A SMALL TABLEAU

A New York artist weaves a small world of big URBAN LANDSCAPES
in a new Gulf Coast Museum of Art Exhibition.

Tampa Bay Illustrated March 2006

By Robert S. Bianchi

Imagine--or remember--what it is like to inhabit a small, cramped apartment in a city like New York, where living space is at a premium and claustrophobia is relieved only by glimpses of the city’s vastness, stolen through a window that narrows one’s vision.

To envision this picture is to view such works by Josette Urso as Rain Approaches 22nd Street and Rear View of East 22nd Street.

The artist’s color sense effectively captures the gray, dreary feeling of urban settings, but her compelling pinks suggest just how vibrant and alive those concrete, metropolitan labyrinths really are.

That vibrancy and urban joie de vivre are admirably captured as well in her lyrical Early Thanksgiving. Here, her nuanced, polychromatic palette convincingly evokes both the festivities of a parade and the anticipated convivial social interaction at the table with family and friends.

These paintings are among a small sampling of the Tampa native’s newest work, being displayed this month at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art in the show “Landscapes/City Scenes.”

Museums and galleres in the Bay area have shown the work of the 1984 University of South Florida fine arts graduate in the past, although she now lives in New York. Indeed, some may recall the brouhaha that erupted here in 1996 over her enormous, 23-foot-long, five-paneled textile work The Plant City Story. That tempest-in-a-teapot brewed over the cost, rather than the aesthetics, of art in public places, despite fact that Urso’s oeuvre has garnered international acclaim, particularly in Spain and in Germany.

Such earlier works by Urso are informed by the imagery of Jean Tinguely, Lucas Samaras, and others. Relying on fantasy in which biomorphic forms are whimsically arranged into subtle compositions, the works have a certain aesthetic common denominator that transcends the media.

For example, although they are relatively large, the textiles and collages rely on numerous smaller-sized vignettes for their overall effect. The diminutive depictions within reveal the intense interest of a weaver who is naturally forced to work in smaller areas with meticulous attention to detail in order to create a much larger composition.

The Gulf Coast Museum of Art’s exhibition is indebted to this earlier oeuvre, while at the same time being a radical departure from the expected. Gone now are the fantastic images and biomorphic forms with their overt references. In their place, Urso presents landscapes. Although these landscapes are based on her experiments with working directly outdoors, I think some local critics have contended erroneously that they are informed by Monet.

Monet’s brushstroke is at once fragmented and polychromatic. His subject matter, in his mature phases at least, was nature herself. Urso, on the other hand, employs bold, clearly defined strokes in the manner of the Post-Impressionists, in predominately gray-scale compositions accented by the red-end of the color spectrum.
Also unexpected is the size of Urso’s current works. The pieces--all created in 2001 or later, and none larger than 12 by 12 inches--stand in marked contrast to the enormity of her earlier textiles. However, they do recall the care with which the smaller vignettes within her earlier, larger works were designed and executed.
Furthermore, the number of works on view in this exhibition is likewise small. This miniaturization, if you will, is effective because it invites the visitor into Urso’s own intimate aesthetic world. And what a world it is.