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GMG Presents: Thomas Paul Raggio: In the Valley, Benjamin Passione: Improvisations + Scott Noel: Portraits

“I think everything is in there: events, people I know, stories, architecture, music…I’m a big believer in coincidence, synchronicity, and numerology: it’s all about how things get funneled and filtered into a linear, transcendent expression.”

-Thomas Paul Raggio

Gross McCleaf is pleased to exhibit a new body of hard-edged abstractions by Thomas Paul Raggio in his first solo show with the gallery. This exhibition, titled In the Valley, features Raggio’s signature combination of carefully organized lines and stripes, meticulously painted in acrylic. While non-objective, the painted bars create harmonious color vibrations that ripple across each canvas. Crisscrossing diagonals offer geometry, movement, and balance. 

In the studio, each work begins as a preliminary design on an iPad Pro. A series of color experiments, gentle angular adjustments, and shifts in scale produce the final studies. Through careful measurements, Raggio then plots the compositions on his specially crafted and primed canvases. Premixed colors are adjusted to match the study and then laid on the substrate with synthetic house painting brushes. The result is tight edges, smooth surfaces, and clean colors.

Raggio often refers to his abstractions as “rhythmic velocities” as he believes the works capture a sense of speed. The colored lines direct the viewer to read through the painted areas quickly or slowly. Some structures stand tall, balanced, and iconic, while others shift and sway from side-to-side. For Raggio, part of the beauty of abstraction is its tendency to create relationships with ideas and systems from the outside world. His own wide-ranging interests include music, math, architecture, numerology, and cryptology, each disparate field offering a structured theorem for understanding color and shape anew. 

Thomas Paul Raggio holds an MFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, and a Four-Year Certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He has taught Color Theory, Visual Thinking, Painting, Drawing, and Art Appreciation at Rutgers University; lectured on Abstract Expressionism, 19th-century American Art; and participated in many programs promoting the visual arts. Thomas has exhibited works nationally and internationally, and his work has been featured in a number of publications including New American Paintings, Northeast Issue 122. His works are in private and public collections in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Australia. 


“I look to infinite possibilities and in infinite directions for inspiration. I once had a studio near an abandoned, graffiti-covered train station. I loved watching the ways the walls evolved; new tags, new colors, different shapes; the styles were always changing: it was never finished.”

-Benjamin Passione

In Improvisations, Benjamin Passione delivers a lively body of abstract oil paintings on canvas. The works are vivid, spatial, and expressive with movement and rhythms that harken back to abstract periods of the early 20th century. Fields of color are partitioned by strokes of line suggesting varying depths of imaginary space. While Passione’s titles evoke imagery and narrative, nameable objects are not recognizably depicted within the works; rather the titles offer a fanciful way to embrace the temperament and character of the abstract forms.  

In the studio, Passione seeks moments of play and escapism. He feels his practice is an attempt to, “…hold onto ungraspable truth and innocence.” While each painted step is executed spontaneously, the works develop slowly over the course of numerous painting sessions, months, and years. At times, large areas are covered in multi-hued washes and occasionally a smaller brush is used to articulate delicate marks and lines.

Passione is inspired by high-browed, technical oil painting traditions and their corresponding artists as much as he is influenced by improvisation, outsider art, and graffiti. This duality can be observed through the structured colors and compositions of his work, counterbalanced by chaotic gesturing and impulse. It is within this tension that Passione’s work excels.

Benjamin Passione was born in Willingboro, NJ in 1987. In youth, he was gifted a copy of H. W. Janson’s History of Art. It was through History that Passione was introduced to Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky’s abstraction, imprinting early images of art in Passione’s brain and permanently changing his future. Passione attended life drawing classes at the Moore College of Art & Design and then completed the Certificate program at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Passione lives and works in Philadelphia with his wife, fellow artist Mickayel Thurin, and their son, Maurice. 


“One thing that persists from the beginning of naturalistic representation to our current cultural moment is the dialectic between the drive to see and the desire to be seen. If observational painting retains any special urgency today, it must partly be to see people and histories yearning to be seen.” 

-Scott Noel

For forty-seven years, Scott Noel’s prolific studio practice has contained multiple branches of representational painted inquiry including narrative, still life, landscape, and portraiture. What binds his oeuvre together is not so much his chosen subjects, but a formal connection and consistent painting sensibility. His monumental, narrative paintings are at times heroic expressions of genius that span generations, cultures, mythologies, literatures, and more. Yet, in his portraiture, Scott underscores the importance of human interaction and intimate contact while maintaining a mastery of material and skill.

In Portraits, Noel delights in sensual and sophisticated surfaces while conveying the beauty that can be embraced through perception. In these works, both hired models and friends are depicted. For Noel, portraying the likeness of a figure is unique as it creates an ephemeral yet precious communion between the artist as the “seer” and the subject as the “seen”.

Noel carefully balances his interest in the sitters themselves with his hunger for the experience of painting. There is a negotiation in the studio while Noel tests his sitter’s openness, maintaining a lively conversation while laying down the paint. What transpires is an act of mutual trust. The model shares both their physical form and a piece of their internal truth, while Noel is gifted an opportunity to archive this shared experience.

Scott Noel began teaching and exhibiting in Philadelphia in 1980, after completing undergraduate study at Washington University in Saint Louis in 1978. Since then, he has mounted over 30 solo exhibitions at galleries, universities, and museums, as well as many group shows. His solo shows have appeared at the State Museum in Harrisburg, the University of Virginia, the Bowery Gallery, the Painting Center, and fifteen exhibitions at the More Gallery, Mangel Art Gallery, and here at Gross McCleaf gallery where he is represented. 

Noel has curated exhibitions for museums, including The Evidence of the Senses at the Woodmere Art Museum in 1990 and Imaginative Affinities: Echoes of Edwin Dickinson in Contemporary American Painting at PAFA in 2002. He has also written catalog essays for peers and forbears, including Lennart Anderson, Larry Day, Rose Naftulin, and Sangram Majumdar. Noel’s paintings are included in numerous private, public, and corporate collections. He has received grants from the Bader Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Independence Foundation as well as a fellowship to the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. His work has been reviewed in Arts and Art in America and he has twice been profiled in American Artist.