The Ben Solowey Studio in Bedminster is a place that transports the visitor back in time to a past that both in social and aesthetic terms seems idyllic today. Solowey (1900-1978) was a painter whose studio-gallery stands as a tribute to his traditional skills and visions.
Time travel in the studio's current exhibition involves the summer and fall of 1924, which Solowey spent in Europe after graduating from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
The intent is to demonstrate how the trip, especially the time spent in France, influenced Solowey's subsequent painting style. The paintings and works on paper not only document the trip, they also bracket it works made before and after.
Solowey, who earned fame for his drawings of theatrical personalities, was equally comfortable in all major paintings genres. On his European trip, however, he concentrated on landscape and city views.
The heart of the show is a group of 27 small oil sketches, most on panel, that embody the impressionist touch to varying degrees. Solowey never completely succumbed to impressionism but adapted it selectively, as these paintings indicate.
The paintings are mostly French scenes, including the obligatory view of Notre Dame, the Luxembourg Gardens, views along the Seine and a chateau. They are loose, brushy sketches that could have served as studies for studio compositions. Today, touring artists would probably make color slides.
In each case, Solowey replicated the style of the original composition, while altering many of the details. The divergence between these borrowed styles and his own is striking, and it drives home the point that paintings is, or was, as much a craft as an art.
Ed Sozanski, Art Critic
The Philadelphia Inquirer
June 30, 1995
The accent is on ambience at the Studio of Ben Solowey, where a carefully manicured, flourishing old farmstead containing the studio of the late prominent Bucks County artist is the great draw. The latest exhibit there, "Europe 24," features paintings Solowey did mostly on a trip aboard after his art school days and upon his return.
Such work shows Soloweys need to explore boundaries more than his need to identify with basic concerns. It's as if he went on a field trip and returned with documents. A first glance shows his art at a fairly undeveloped level, the artist already displaying considerable youthful assurance yet still frolicking in the pleasures of the oil paint medium, playing with landscape sequences, chance forms and odd arrangements, Solowey is enjoying the potential for image manipulation. The laudable ease evident here and his facility with oils shifts attention from the limiting factors that might have focused the conception of the individual works more.
Images and shapes in these French and German views often have thick and luscious textural surfaces. Edges of buildings, landscape features and distant figures echo and make reference to each other. Colors in buoyant combination collide with a simultaneous sense of control and freedom. Solowey, who would one day take over a decaying Bucks County farm and turn it into a showplace, was already well-launched on his "I'll do it my way" stance by 1924. He gets to the heart of what painting and the pictorial experience are about in this show.
This presentation, however, is not without problems. Solowey is justifiably best known for his later work. Even though we are made aware of what it evolved into, by examples of his mature output both as a painter and theater illustrator, his work was already blessed by 1924 with a formidable set of components. It is well worth a trip, with studio's curator, theater historian David Leopold, as on-site guide.
Victoria Donohoe, Art Critic
The Philadelphia Inquirer
June 18, 1995