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AUP Fine Arts Gallery Welcomes Back its Founder, Ralph Petty

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Ralph Petty and his sculpture "Listening"

On Wednesday, October 23, 2019, the AUP Fine Arts Gallery hosted a vernissage for a special exhibition from its founder and former curator, Professor Emeritus Ralph Petty. His new exhibition, Orage Électrique, takes its name from the French term for an uncontrollable ventricular tachycardia – a medical condition with which Petty himself has struggled. The vernissage and accompanying drinks reception were attended by staff, faculty, students and friends of AUP.

The centerpiece of Petty’s exhibition consists of a series of long vertical canvasses, characterized by repeating images and patterns extending from the form of a head at each painting’s base. The works are evocative of a sudden disintegration of self, such as one feels upon receiving a serious medical diagnosis. Inspired by Petty’s own experience, the exhibition asks what images may lie beyond the limits of the senses as those senses begin to shut down.

The central collection is complemented by selected pieces from Petty’s wider portfolio, including a series of drawings named in homage to Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. Made using a hand-ground watercolor pigment and a bamboo pen, the drawings express the images running through Petty’s mind as he contemplates modern society. “This year,” says Petty in the exhibition material, “it was the sad absurdity of our contemporary world that surfaced on the page.”

Petty was a Professor of Fine Arts at AUP for 25 years. In 2004, he founded the Fine Arts Gallery and became its first curator. During his tenure at AUP, he played a key role in establishing a fine arts major. He also set up the University's permanent collection, which consists of artwork from students, faculty and former exhibitors of the Fine Arts Gallery. Petty himself contributed a sculpture, entitled Listening, to the permanent collection for the University’s 50th anniversary; the work is currently on display in the courtyard of the AMEX Café.

Speaking before the vernissage, Petty commented that he was moved to be returning to exhibit in the gallery he founded. “I put a lot of effort into this,” he explained. “I really wanted to make something. I’m quite proud, not just of what I’ve done, but of what has been done since.” The gallery’s current curator, Professor Jonathan Shimony, took up the role from Petty in 2015 and has continued to organize a new exhibition every three to four weeks.

The newly extended AUP Fine Arts Gallery spans the glass atrium connecting the Combes Student Life Center to the University’s flagship building, the Quai d’Orsay Learning Commons. Orage Électrique will be exhibited until November 18, 2019, after which the painter Bunny Harvey will exhibit her collection Survival Tactics. A vernissage will be held in the gallery on November 21 at 18:00.