Two decades ago the Mural Arts Program's celebrated director tried to save a talented painted from the streets. Now they're working together in prison.
Bernice Horn remembers the creations Spel came up with in her South Philly High art class whenever she'd assign a simple still life.
"They were pretty amazing," says Horn, who's now retired. "They were among the best in the class--more than you asked for."
On this evening Horn, who renews an Art News magazine subscription for Spel every year, is perusing 40 of his multimedia paintings inside the Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon. It's Spel's first solo show, and it's running through Oct. 27. His mother and a group of supporters including art enthusiast Patt Freda, whose collection includes a dozen or so of Spel's works, put the show together.
"Being incarcerated, I don't know how he keeps his spirit," Freda says. "A lot of his paintings reflect his situation. But he stays positive, against all odds, really."
Golden is sick with a lupus flare-up, and can't be here tonight, but the 25 or so suburbanites who've shown up seem engrossed by paintings that "smoothly switch-hit between abstraction and representation ... in the colors and feelings of daylight," according to Inquirer art critic Victoria Donohoe.
Robin Rice, a longtime Philadelphia art critic, has waxed similarly enthusiastic about Spel's work over the years. "He integrates language with abstraction and imagery in a really cutting-edge way that goes back to Basquiat," she says.
Lillian Torres beams as several attendees tell her how taken they are with her son's work.
"It makes me very proud," she says.
A few weeks later a visitor to Graterford asks Spel about several of the show's paintings bearing Spanish-language titles, such as El Soldado de Efesios, Ensaname Como and Fuera de Aqui, and the one whose English title Out Goes the Refil seems to include a misspelling.
"It's not a misspelling," Cortes says. "You have to spell 'refil' backward."
Frank Rubino last wrote about a North Philadelphia woman's long battle to demolish the abandoned homes attached to hers. Comments on this story can be sent to email@example.com
Jane Golden Reading and signing of More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They TellSun., Oct. 22, 1pm. Free. Barnes & Noble, 1805 Walnut St. 215.665.0716
Geek Invasion 2013