Abstract Artist Janet Filomeno in her studio, designed by Luce Architects.  Photo credit:  Ron Filomeno

Bridge Walks and Water Energy: In the Studio with Janet Filomeno

By Louise Feder

It is easy to get swept up in one of Janet Filomeno’s paintings. Most of her abstract, gestural compositions are significant in scale, towering over the viewer like an oncoming wave. Forms on her canvases are organic and appear to float across a nebulous space, with line melding into line and colors crashing into one another. The work invites long, meditative study during which the viewer may discover myriad connections and associations, often using water as a metaphorical reference in both subjects and titles. Filomeno’s intuitive process, inextricably connected to the unconscious mind offers a unique window through which one may derive meaning.

I first visited Filomeno’s studio back in 2016. I was familiar with Filomeno’s work before my arrival, particularly selections from her 2007 series The Sea Has Veins: The Delaware Series. Already, in advance of our meeting, I admired her ability to work with a variety of media (graphite, aluminum paint, and mica alongside acrylic and oils) to create large, layered abstractions that referenced familiar topography. But it wasn’t until I walked into her studio and was met with pieces from her 2016 Lotus Rising series that I discovered the exciting ways in which Filomeno’s physical studio influences and contributes to her paintings. The intersection of artistic location, both in terms of general geography as well as workspace, and practice for Filomeno remains a rich point of interest when considering her work.

New Hope has been Filomeno’s home for the past 17 years. “It’s just magic here,” she states firmly. “I think for creativity to flourish, there’s an energy here that is all encompassing. And it fuels my artistic creativity and endeavors in painting.”

Photo credit:  Ron Filomeno

Born in New York, Filomeno relocated to the Delaware Valley area from New Jersey. At the time, she was looking for a new home, an artistic base on a river town and had been considering upstate New York. But after a few visits to New Hope, that was it. “It’s got the river going, a great community, eclectic artists, people. It’s where I want to be.”

Though, her first studio after the move was not on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, but in Lambertville, New Jersey in the Laceworks building. A former factory, the space was reminiscent of Filomeno’s previous studios, many of which were located in industrial buildings and large-scale lofts. These spaces were typified by two things: incredible light and an artistic community. The Laceworks, where Filomeno worked for 6 years, was a continuation of that trend.

“Light, natural light. It’s always about some kind of natural light. And actually, I was very fortunate over at the Laceworks, I was able to see the canal and the river and beyond. Bodies of water that I can actually see are very interesting to me and help my work.” Filomeno remembers. “It’s all about using water as a metaphor in different ways. Water in all of its many forms offers many rich associations.”

This connection to water – its many properties, its varied moods – is readily visible in Filomeno’s work. Large, gestural, and abstract, her work has a consistent thread of fluid motion. Like many of the Abstract Expressionist artists Filomeno counts among her many sources of art historical inspiration, one can sense her own varied movements through the many ways paint is applied to the canvas. Thrown, poured, tossed, the application of paints in Filomeno’s compositions recalls the ever-changing ways in which water moves in the ocean, and in a river. And, given her home and studio’s location, the body of water Filomeno most often turns to for inspiration is the Delaware River.

Photo credit:  Ron Filomeno

“I always do bridge walks. I love walking the Stockton bridge; I love a New Hope bridge walk but it’s always too congested. I like the quietude on the Stockton bridge. I feel like it’s just me and the river when I do that walk. I study the water. But, wherever I travel, I go to places where there’s ocean and I can study the movement of the water. It’s what always attracts me, looking at the water and studying the water, its movement and rhythms.”

But, unlike the region’s famed Pennsylvania Impressionists, many of whom were similarly inspired by the Delaware River landscape and sought to capture its character en plein air, Filomeno takes inspiration from the body of water at hand, and then returns to her studio to process and paint.

“We as artists we’re like sponges. We take in everything. As a child I walked the canals in Florida, and those images are stored, embedded in the subconscious mind. When and where they come out is difficult to define,” describes Filomeno. “My work is an intuitively driven process. I get into the studio, mix up materials, stare at the canvas for a while, mix up more materials and start going. It’s where those kinds of embedded images release themselves. And then I work with that and through that and edit what I feel should stay and what I feel should be removed.”

Filomeno’s present studio is, like her home, tucked back in the Solebury woods, up the hill from downtown New Hope. Trees surround the outbuilding that, on other area properties a visitor might assume to be a refurbished barn. But, upon entering, the crisp, white space is flooded with light and its walls dotted with the artist’s massive, colorful paintings. Sunlight and branches peek in through small windows up high, near the peak of the room’s vaulted ceiling and two registers of windows on the back wall let in abundant light, welcoming the natural landscape beyond.

For an artist whose work is so critically tied to the elements, the studio space is ideal for Filomeno. “It took a good two years to come up with this design. Luce Architects designed it for me; they’re in the area [Doylestown]. It took a long period of time but everything came out perfectly situated, and I don’t feel the need to change it. Chris Luce is an incredibly talented architect and a wonder to work with; exceptional skills in many ways.”

Filomeno laughed at the idea of changing or expanding her space. And it is easy to understand why – her priorities in the studio design process are well met. Light was an obvious must-have, but also allowing for maximum wall space and separate storage for her many, large paintings were absolute necessities. And, being in the studio, with trees and greenery leading down to a pond on one side and Filomeno’s immersive, abstract paintings on the three other walls, the experience feels balanced, open, and ripe for releasing embedded images, making it is easy to see why the artist feels so satisfied with and by her workspace.

Photo credit:  Ron Filomeno

“Obviously a pond doesn’t have that kind of [river] movement,” Filomeno jokes. “But like I said, Stockton is my favorite bridge to study the river.” And the bridge, river, and the many moods of surrounding bodies of water are never far away.

Janet Filomeno’s work is represented by the longstanding Walter Wickiser Gallery in New York, New York. Walter Wickiser welcomes any inquiries and the Gallery’s virtual exhibition Gallery Artists Part XVIII may be viewed here. Filomeno’s work may also be found through Posner Fine Art, and in the permanent collections of the James A. Michener Art Museum, The Montclair Art Museum, and SUNY at Albany Museum as well as many private collections. An online exhibition presented by Walter Wickiser Gallery, Janet Filomeno: Bodies of Water is up on Artsy now through January 17th, 2023. More information about upcoming opportunities to view her work is available on the artist’s website, www.janetfilomeno.com.

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