Review: ‘Presence’ at Susquehanna University

SELINSGROVE – A key question for every art show is: Is it worth your time?

Well, the answer for the new exhibition of paintings by wife-and-husband duo Ann Piper and Aaron M. Brown at Susquehanna University is yes.

Titled “Presence,” this exhibition is the type of show that requires no background in art and no knowledge of art speak to enjoy. Anyone can come and be impressed by the skill, captivated by the faces and intrigued by the loose narratives told only by the compositions.

The artwork by both artists is different enough that one can compare and contrast easily but similar enough that the paintings don’t look out of place next to each other.

Piper’s work places the figure front-and-center, oftentimes showing the artist herself in a comedic light – whether she’s eating flowers, being attacked by ladybugs or lying with a fish on her belly.

Many of the figures are surrounded by splashes of paint, giving the impression that Piper prefers her characters to live on the border of abstraction rather than in reality.

Brown’s work, on the other hand, embeds figures in thoroughly rendered settings that feature many objects illustrated with varying stages of clarity. Brown’s expressiveness is subtly placed throughout his paintings, being revealed in an intentionally sloppy hand here and extreme oranges and pinks in a face there. His best works are the ones in which the surroundings augment the mystery of the figure, like in the excellent “Boy in A Forest.” We have no idea why this boy is standing alone in the middle of the woods, but his flat affect leaves us wondering about what kind of mischievous deed he just did or is about to do. The soft focus of the surrounding trees places a wall between us and the potential of the woods, forcing us to return to the ambiguous child over and over again.

Brown errs when he places too many individually finished objects next to each other that don’t feel like they’re interacting in the world of the painting. Some of his paintings are so completely realized that they fall flat and nothing sticks out.

Piper’s best pieces are the funny ones, which is no small thing. I believe comedy is the highest art and think that more artists should play in that realm. Why are there several paintings of people eating flowers? I have no idea. But I like that she is obviously thrilled by the idea, which is revealed by the fact that the works, especially the pink-and-red one of the artist herself, scream with life.

Sometimes she’s just too interested in faces and I’d prefer to see her figures doing more silly things or interacting with other figures in more absurd situations.

Regardless, this show has so many quality pieces, that it’s certainly worth the hour drive from Williamsport to Selinsgrove for the experience alone. The exhibition will be on display until May 10.

For more information about Piper, visit For more information about Brown, visit