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Ellen Priest: On Being American / Jazz: Ryan Cohan's "The River"


The jazz inspiration of Ellen Priest’s dynamic abstract series “On Being American / Jazz: Ryan Cohan’s The River” is on display from March 28 to June 6, 2019 at the galleries of “the first church of jazz,” Saint Peter’s Church (54th Street at Lexington in Midtown Manhattan).

For Priest, jazz evokes “the rich, surprising content I want my paintings to offer my audience,” and this exhibition is the latest refinement of her technique, which layers multiple senses onto paper to capture permanently the fleeting moments, rhythm, and dynamism of soulful jazz performance. Priest reimagines Chicago-based pianist and composer Ryan Cohan’s celebrated The River suite as physical, visual art, full of color, open for viewers to see the music’s movement, space, rhythms, harmonies, and improvisation. “The River offers me rich musical spaces and emotional content to work with,” according to Priest, representing both a “coming home” and an engagement “with the contradictions in America, especially [its] persistent difficulty embracing the diversity that defines it and makes it thrive.”

The exhibition will culminate in Priest and Cohan giving an artist and composer talk/mini-performance about the creation of “The River” art and jazz on Tuesday, May 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Saint Peter’s.

Ellen’s process discussed on   Whyy First

Ellen’s process discussed on Whyy First

Ellen Priest’s jazz-based abstractions balance directly on the border between painting and sculpture—they are vibrantly colored spatial illusions when read from a distance and three-dimensional relief constructions of layered, collaged paper when seen up close. Priest grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, received her Master of Divinity, with a dual concentration in Christianity and the Visual Arts, from Yale Divinity School, and currently lives and works in the Philadelphia area. The Pollock-Krasner Foundation has twice awarded Priest major grants to support her work, which has also appeared in solo exhibitions at the Delaware Division of the Arts Gallery in Wilmington, Delaware; the Yale Institute of Sacred Music in New Haven, Connecticut; and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Her inspiration in the visual arts comes from Cezanne’s late watercolors, Matisse’s color and compositional structure, and the abstract expressionism of Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell.

Fostering the creative and performing arts is one of the longest continuous commitments of Saint Peter’s Church, a welcoming and diverse evangelical catholic communion committed to creatively shaping life in the city. Saint Peter’s hosts a rich collection of sculpture, textiles, paintings and fine objects including Nevelson Chapel, the only remaining intact sculptural environment created by the extraordinary Louise Nevelson, one of the 20th century’s premier abstract expressionist sculptors.

Click HERE to download a PDF of the official press release.