In the past several decades there has been talk about the death of painting.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. Paintings are the antidote to a society that is built on speed and immediate gratification. Making paintings – and viewing them – forces people to be quiet and still. As long as painters find ways to reinvent the language of paint to include contemporary ideas and manners of applying paint, then the medium will continue to be relevant. Art challenges viewers. People often look at figurative or objective work and think they know what the artist intended; so often these precursory judgments are not accurate and the works of art are much more complicated than they first appear. The same viewer will often be intimidated by abstract art and refuse even to try and engage with it.
For me, though, abstraction is the attempt to find new ways to explore ideas and stories. Though it may not be readily apparent in the finished product, my art emerges out of a narrative; but I don’t believe in stories that are simple and straightforward. The more I seek the narrative, the more paradoxical and complicated it seems to become. As these narratives are put into paint, I am forced to be still and consider color, line, composition and texture, and to contemplate each mark as it impacts the work as a whole.
Abstract art should not be feared. Consider this: In the natural world we see organizations and patterns that create structure — a pattern of lines in a forest or the repetition of the colors of different flowers or leaves. In my abstract paintings I create order through repetition and motion to unify my works. I often begin with a structure or symbols to guide my painting but eventually I move beyond that underlying structure and create a work that is organized by my responses to what is happening on the surface of the piece.
My Synagogue Migrations paintings were created as part of a series for a show with the Jewish Art Salon based in New York. The works echo the American narrative of the 20th and 21st centuries by following the path of traditional urban synagogues migrating to suburban areas. I used photos from the synagogue that I grew up in and from a Baptist Church that had been the synagogue when my father was a child. The palette corresponded to the stained glass windows, the stone exterior and the bronze ritual furnishings. In addition to painting with brushes, for these works I also painted with drafting tools through which I allude to the facades of the buildings which house our spiritual lives and communities.
I created Yaakov Blesses Yehuda about a biblical passage of the patriarch Jacob (Yaakov) blessing his son, Judah (Yehudah). “A lion cub is Yehudah; from the prey, my son, you elevated yourself. He crouches, lies down like a lion, and like an awesome lion, who dares rouse him?” The blessing concludes with imagery lush in color and beautiful in its language. “He will tie his donkey to the vine; to the vine branch his donkey’s foal; he will launder his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes. Red eyed from wine and white toothed from milk.” In these paintings, I use imagery of the lion cub, the lion, the donkey, wine and grapes as well as colors that recall the red and white and purple of the end of Yehudah’s blessing.
The vessel series began as a response to a beautiful photo a friend shared years ago of empty vessels, or bottles that were capturing the sunlight. The bottles were intense colors and the light passing through them was striking. For these paintings I took photographs of bottles that I owned varying in color and shape. I studied a Talmudic text in which the rabbinical sages interpret a text that interprets the biblical phrase, “zeh keli ani v’anvehu,” as meaning to make beautiful or embellish. As an artist the notion of beautifying is a divine act in which the artist sets herself up to mimic the Creator by creating. As abstract artist Barnett Newman wrote, “Man’s origin was that of an artist and he set him up in a Garden of Eden close to the Tree of Knowledge of right and wrong in the highest sense of divine revelation…. What is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be painter and poet if it is not an act of defiance against man’s fall and an assertion that he return to the Adam of the Garden of Eden?”
How do you know when your painting is finished? People love to ask this question about abstract work. “When it feels done,” I tell them. My process is very intuitive. Each mark that I put on the image I look at and respond to the way that it has altered the image. At some point the image is resolved when I have no problems or qualms about it. As Hans Hofmann a great painter and maybe even more distinguished teacher said, “Ah, yes, there is a secret, but you must find it for yourself. It does not belong to me.”