May 6, 2021

The Shapes of Things

 


Sometimes it happens that an ordinary object lying about the house will nudge me to open my eyes and notice things I hadn't seen before. "Seen" is the wrong word: I saw them, but they failed to impress on my conscious mind as something especially beautiful. As Henry Miller put it: 

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.

This old lap table was leaning against a wall, waiting to be put away, when I saw that lovely curve against the straight line of the outer wall, and the simple elegance of the rounded legs; and the circle, on a piece of wood that looks like it dropped from its original position, giving a sense of time passed. 



I then photographed some legs on old pieces of furniture, as on this dresser. The front legs are complex and inventive in form, curving in and out, in gentle and sharp lines. You can see a glimpse of the rear leg, which is much simpler in design. 




The repetitive pattern of the legs of my bedside table remind me of nothing more than of Brancusi's Endless Column, in miniature: 






An old fan with rubber blades has grace and elegance in its design.

Lest you think that it's only old objects that attract my interest, here are two functional forms attached to the outside of my house that I find quite beautiful in their shapes and lines:




This metal box has an appearance of a torso, with heavy rounded legs.




A fluid line of copper tubing enhances a circular form whose copper screws echo the color of the curved pipe. 




And of course, there are the contemporary machines that provide subject matter for my paintings, drawings, and relief sculpture. In agricultural equipment I find a wealth of unusual shapes, with surprising relationships of color, line, volume, and light. When I go out to look for motifs, it is like a treasure hunt, full of unforseen results. I would like to share John Cage's quote about the woods, because it resonates for me in my trips to farms:
One shouldn't go to the woods looking for something, but rather to see what is there.

April 13, 2021

Artists and Critics

 

Honoré Daumier, "Well, if you look very closely you might ending finding some quality; the color seems to be good."


In Jean Frémon's marvelous little book, The Paradoxes of Robert Ryman, he writes almost apologetically about his role as a writer on art:

All of us who write on art or artists have an extreme presumptuousness. We hold forth on the ins and outs, means and ends, and in reality we know nothing; nothing of what it is to truly take, on the end of a brush, the color from a palette and put it on a panel. We dissect thoughts while the painter searches for the form. Thought is within it and cannot be formulated in words. The thought of a painting is not discursive. It matters to the greatest degree and at the same time is on no consequence. It is everything, but it is nothing. It is there. In any case. Before and after. The only thing that matters is the form that it takes here and now: a little bit of white pigment taken up the this palette, on the end of a brush, and set down on that surface. 
In this modest declaration, Frémon shows himself to be a most sensitive and thoughtful writer. He has so many insightful things to say in this book that go beyond referencing just Ryman, such as:
Miro, Rothko, Ryman....deepened their thought in order to enlarge our understanding of the work of art, and our perception of the world. They do it not as historians or as sociologists but as artists; the proposition that they advance is not along the lines of semiotic analysis or chemical experiment; it is an object, an unexpected object, even if all the steps of its production have been carefully prepared, an object with no other purpose than itself, made to be seen, simple, and whose mystery holds us attentive, whose mystery touches us. 
 
This quality, obviousness and mystery, is what one speaks of the least when one speaks of a painting, because it is that whereof one cannot speaki. Thus, it is necessary to fall silent. Wittgenstein would say, Fall silent and look.
Frémon has not fallen silent, for which I am grateful because he's a wonderful writer. Artists cannot fall totally silent either, not about their own work or that of others. I've long believed that it is a good thing to be somewhat articulate about one's own work, to think about it as clearly as possible, as it allows us to move forward intelligently. But as the maker of the work, we can't ever have a new eye to see it in a different way.

Many years ago I was at a lecture given by Lucy Lippard, and one thing that she said has stayed with me because it is so important: she believed that the role of the critic was to be a "sympathetic observer". The critic can look at the art object and find connections, explore meanings of both form and content,  respond in an open and intelligent way to what they are seeing; this enlarges our understanding.  Over my long career I've been lucky to have had many reviews in which the writer was certainly sympathetic, and observant, pointing things out in my work that I hadn't thought of. Having the physical object of a painting translated into poetic prose is a delight and a gift. I did once get a nasty negative review, almost 40 years ago, and in the NY Times. I was a young artist and it crushed me (I did get other laudatory reviews in that paper). I now wonder what the point was of writing something so mean spirited? I don't read these kinds of blistering reviews any more, or perhaps I'm just not aware of them. It seems to me that writers on art have adopted Lippard's credo and  have provided us with a rich and informative range of texts, and the arts are definitely better for it. 


April 6, 2021

Regret: Bertrand Tavernier's "A Sunday in the Country"

 


On a lovely Sunday morning in 1912, the elderly artist Monsieur Ladmiral prepares for a visit from his son and family. We see that M. Ladmiral must be a successful painter: his house in a country setting near Paris is large and beautiful, his studio situated in the garden is spacious and elegant. It is evident from the paintings hanging in the house and studio that he is a very traditional painter, conservative in style; the upheavals in art of the late 19th century passed him by. 

The sense of life not being fully lived pervades this poignant film. Ladmiral's reserved middle-aged son Gonzague visits regularly, bringing his straight-laced wife and three children. At one point Gonzague wonders if he should have pursued painting when he was young; but perhaps he wouldn't be as good as his father, or, he would compete with him. Ladmiral also seems a bit disappointed in his son, a feeling that is thrown into vivid contrast with the unexpected arrival, via motor car, of his beloved daughter Irene. We can see that he adores her brilliant free spirit, her unconventionality, her need to liven things up. She is the only one whose opinion about his work he seeks, and fears. In the studio, she disparages a painting in process on the easel as yet another "corner of the studio" painting; how dull, how ordinary.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, 1876

Then she whisks her beloved father away in the motor, to a café near a river, where there is dancing. For me this scene is the heart of the film, where Tavernier calls up the spirit of Renoir. And here is where father and daughter have a candid talk about his work. Irene says to him, pointing to the dancers, "That's what you should have painted". His response is beautifully thoughtful, and relevant, I believe, to choices all artists make: 

I painted the way I was taught. I believed my teachers: to respect the traditional rules, maybe a bit too much. I saw originality in others' work. Cézanne's major exhibition in '96 or '97 was interesting, but I thought "Where can that lead me", like van Gogh's work. I'd singled him out. I spent a summer painting in Arles. Perhaps I lacked courage. Some years ago, I considered changing my style. I thought about it seriously, but it hurt your mother that I was still groping at that age. I'd just been decorated; our future was assured. If I'd imitated what was original in other painters––Monet, Caillebotte, Renoir––I'd have been even less original. I'd have lost my own special melody; at least it was mine. I painted as I felt, with honesty. If I didn't achieve more, I at least glimpsed what I could have done. 

Then he recounts his dream about Moses, who saw the Promised Land, so could die without regret. Irene listens to his passionate, yet hesitant words with attentive love. 



When all his guests have gone, M. Ladmiral sits alone in the studio. Although his talk with Irene made it sound as though he had no regrets, the expression on his face––he is sensitively portrayed by Louis Ducreux––reveals uncertainty. He removes the unfinished painting of the studio corner from the easel and turns it against the wall. He places a smaller blank canvas on the easel, which he turns so he can look at it from the studio couch. The camera lingers on his hands, moving as though seeking answers. This scene was so touching, even heartbreaking. Although he spoke of having no regrets, he seems full of self-doubt.

I loved this about A Sunday in the Country: it wasn't only sensitive to family relations, but also astute in its portrayal of an artist's questioning of their work. I wonder if artists reading this have felt that. I certainly have: that sudden crushing sense of bewilderment, the "what am I doing?", the ground sliding out from under my feet. We go on, as best as we know how. 


April 1, 2021

Matzoh, Tradition and Commemoration

 


There are many foods that I eat in season––asparagus in the spring, tomatoes in summer, brussels sprouts in the fall––but only Passover matzoh is so rich in associations. The Jewish holiday of Passover commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, where Jews were enslaved for 400 years. Because they didn't have time to make raised bread in leaving Egypt, their bread was unleavened, so unleavened matzoh became a ritual food during the 8 days of Passover. For me it's also a tie to family, to our holiday traditions. I love the large family seders, sadly missed the past two years because of Covid. 



I look forward to my breakfasts of matzoh cereal, invented by my father (or are there any other people out there who make this?)  I remember him sitting at the breakfast table, chopping at his cereal. Just crumble two matzohs into a bowl, sprinkle generously with sugar, and pour on plenty of milk. My brother informs me that he has two bowls of this every morning, with lots of sugar. Not very nutritious, but good nonetheless. This is food as remembrance.




Another commemorative food eaten for the Passover seder is Haroseth, symbolic of the mortar that the Israelis enslaved in Egypt used in buildings for the Pharaoh. In my Sephardic community, we make it with dates rather than apples. For me it's a treat spread on matzoh, and is quite simple to make; it can also be thought of as date butter: 
Soak one pound of dates (I use medjool dates) in 1 1/2 cups of water for 1 hour. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes until soft and breaking down. Drain the dates; when cool you can slip off their skins, then process them until smooth in a food processor.




My final Passover matzoh treat is matzoh brie––a kind of fritter––another very simple recipe. 
Run cool water over two matzohs until they soften, then crumble them into a bowl. Beat with two eggs and a little salt. Shallow fry them with vegetable oil, butter, or a combination of the two; I use oil. Top with something nice: I like the tart-sweet flavor of rhubarb jam on mine. You can also add a little grated onion for a savory fritter. 

Having food traditions that tie us to history and to family add richness to life. 


March 30, 2021

In the Early Spring Vegetable Garden

Egyptian Onions, aka Walking Onions


I love seasons: with each change comes the excitement of the new. Even though spring is the same year after year, it feels as though it's never happened before. As soon as the garden is dry enough to walk through without sinking into mud, my first chore is to go out with a bucket of small stakes and a tape measure and mark out the rows. I am thrilled to watch the new growth, and especially gratifying with food crops. One of the first plants I can harvest are Egyptian onions, which I snip and add to salads and other dishes. Today I added some to my lunchtime coleslaw, using a cabbage that I harvested last fall. 


Garlic


Garlic bulbs are planted in the fall, and I cover them with a hay mulch. In early spring, I gently move aside the mulch to see if the shoots have emerged. It's an announcement of the start of garden season when those green leaves rise up.



Sorrel


The tiny leaves of sorrel have begun to grow. There are several recipes that I love that use sorrel; I'm fond of its tart flavor. There's a sorrel/onion tart, cream of sorrel soup, potato-sorrel soup.



Chives


Chives are another handy herb to have in the garden.



Cold Frame


My hand-made cold frame is rather rickety and crude, but it does the job asked of it. When the soil dries enough to plant, my first sowing of seed is arugula and lettuce in the cold frame. They are very hardy, and the structure keeps it warmer inside to encourage growth during these cool days.


Arugula seedlings


And today I was so happy to see some tiny new arugula seedlings popping up, from a March 24th planting. 



Pea Stakes


I'm getting ready to plant peas: the stakes are placed, and next I'll put up the fencing, for which I use chicken wire. The three taller stakes––with added height from taped-on broom handles––are for snap peas, which are vigorous climbersl. I love the description for planting peas and spinach: "as soon as the ground can be worked". A handful of soil, squeezed between the fingers, should break apart when your hand is opened and not stick together in a muddy clump. A too-wet soil will rot the seeds. 


Rhubarb

Rhubarb plants grow to an enormous size so are situated outside the perimeter of the garden. Although we treat rhubarb as a fruit, it's actually a vegetable, so is appropriately included in this post.  What I most love to make with rhubarb is jam, deliciously tart and sweet. 

The first spring vegetable that will appear will be perennial asparagus, but I have to be patient until early to mid May before that tasty treat appears. I have to admit that I've let my flower gardens go to rack and ruin, letting the plants fight it out with the weeds, but my vegetable garden gives me such deep satisfaction that I hope I never have to give it up. 


March 27, 2021

A Renewal

 




It's been several years since I've posted on this blog, but some reading I've been doing lately has got me thinking that I might enjoy writing again. It's early spring here in northern Vermont, the ice is receding from the edges of the pond, green leaves are visible under the shallow pond water: a time to start afresh. 

The poems of Alberto Caeiro, a heteronym of Fernando Pessoa are making me aware again of the value of looking closely at the world around me: 
The astonishing reality of things
Is my daily discovery.
Each thing is what it is,
And it's hard to explain to someone how much joy this gives me,
And how much that joy suffices me. 
And
In my gaze, everything is clear as a sunflower,
I'm in the habit of going for walks along the roads,
Looking to the right and to the left,
And now and then looking back...
And what I see at each moment Is something I've never seen before,
And I'm very good at that...
I know how to feel the profound astonishment 
A child would feel if, on being born, 
He realized that he truly had been born...
I feel newborn with every moment
To the complete newness of the world...

Caeiro asks us to look, to truly see, with no preconceptions, no thought. I've also been reading several modernist French writers, such as Jean Frémon, Pierre Reverdy, Franck André Jamme, and Philippe Jaccottet whose prose styles are inspiring. It is Jaccottet's Seedtime, selections from his notebooks, that also made me think about making notebook-like entries in my blog, along with photographs. Although the blog is titled Studio and Garden, I don't think I'll post my artwork here, but will leave that to Facebook and Instagram. But I do hope to write about art that I see in museums and galleries, once I'm back to visiting those wonderful, much-missed places.




In the woods, the mosses have been refreshed by yesterday's rain, and their intense greens can't be matched in the natural world. Their shapes vary, from tiny tree-like forms to soft cushiony shapes, some that make resting on a moss-covered rock inviting. 



In the first entry in Jaccottet's Seedtime, he urges us towards a "complete forgetting": 
Attachment to the self renders life more opaque. One moment of complete forgetting and all the screens, one behind the other, become transparent so that you can perceive clarity to its very depths, as far as the eye can see, and at the same time everything becomes weightless. Thus does the soul truly become a bird. 



January 9, 2017

At the Met: The Power of Simple Form


Shell Ring ,(Yua), Abelam people, Papua New Guinea, 19th - early 20th century


What is it about beautiful objects that is so compelling? Often, when I have some time to wander the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I find myself looking at things, at artifacts and ancient sculpture; I visit old friends and discover new ones. I don't quite know why these often take precedence over spending time in the painting galleries; perhaps it's the satisfaction of seeing three dimensional things I can imagine running my hands over; perhaps it's their mystery. On my most recent trip I looked through the galleries of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas and saw a few objects of stunning simplicity, where the purity of form spoke very strongly.  The shell ring, made from the shell of a giant clam, is a form of wealth for the Abelam, and also a part of ceremonial life. The irregularities of the surface play against the perfection of its curving form.


Bannerstones, archaic Illinois and Ohio, 3rd - 2nd millenium B.C.E. 


These ancient carved stones were used as spear weights. I love seeing very old utilitarian objects that were crafted with exquisite care, each one an aesthetic object. The fact that thousands of years ago different peoples around the world sought beauty touches me deeply.


Lidded Bowl, Marquesas Islands, 'Enana peoples, late 18th - early 19th century.


The simple shape of this bowl is described as bird-shaped in the Met's wall label. I hadn't recognized that, but I did respond to its graceful curves, which end in a stylized human head.




I'm not sure what this object is because I photographed the incorrect wall label; I'd thought it was a fishing float from the Solomon Islands. But whatever it is, the dark irregular sphere and its elegant decoration are wondrous.


Shield, Australian aboriginal artist, mid to late 19th century


I love both the extended oval form of this shield and its geometric decoration that pushes against the curved edges. The central horizontal band of red creates a break in the rhythm, a sophisticated syncopation.


Egyptian ointment jars and pots for makeup, 1800-1500 BC


The Egyptian jars and the two porcelain works below are objects that I photographed on previous visits to the Met, but which fit in with the theme of clear and simple form, form which I find so pleasurable. I look at Egyptian works often, especially Egyptian reliefs, which inspired me to begin my series of relief sculpture.


Chinese Qing dynasty porcelain, late 17th - early 18th century


On the Met's second floor, in cases to the left of the grand staircase, are many elegant Chinese porcelains, beautiful in color and in shape. I love these pieces, not the highly decorated vases, but the ones that are mainly a single color––white or yellow, or oxblood–––on a pure form.


Moon Jar, Korea, second half 18th century; porcelain, 15 1/4 x 13 in.


There is a gallery dedicated to Korean art in the Asian wing at the Met, with intriguing objects on view, especially ceramics. The Moon Jar with its gently swelling form and delicate coloration is a favorite of mine.


Barnett Newman, Untitled Etching #1, 1969; etching and aquatint, 23 3/8 x 14 11/16 in.


After admiring the objects from the Americas and Oceania, I felt that the pure, simple form of this Barnett Newman etching had an increased resonance and weight. It's not only a modernist abstraction, but it is also an heir to a millennial-old tradition of art's fundamental aspect, pointing to a quality of transcendence. The clearing away of extraneous detail and of narrative, the focus on the essential, gives to all these works a sense of the extraordinary, the magical, and shows the power of art to elevate and enlarge us.
 

December 19, 2016

Where to Find Meaning?


Hello and Happy Holidays to all my long-lost blog friends. I want to share with you a brief essay that I am honored to have included in the final, online, issue of the long-running art journal M/E/A/N/I/N/G, edited by Mira Schor and Susan Bee, which focuses on how to find meaning in this current political climate; there are many contributors, artists and writers. My essay is at the bottom of this page, and here below.




“I am here to wonder.” Goethe

It is difficult to understand how to respond to the political shock that descended on so many of us in early November. Where to turn, how to think, what to do? For me, it is necessary to go towards what I find essential, which is paying attention to the small moments that bring joy and beauty and surprise: winter sunlight reaching far into a room, highlighting the delicate serrated edge of a seed head; a tiny snail crossing an immensity of leaf; bright light illuminating a plastic tank; the taste of a garden tomato warmed by the sun; a tangle of tree roots pushing against city pavement; the emergence of a seedling, still a miracle to me. To slow down and notice everyday things provides sense and spirit and calm to emotional chaos. 

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
Henry Miller

I walk in the woods, taking the same path several times a week, and each time it is different in feeling and in light, each time there are things to see that I hadn’t noticed before: a bit of moss, a fluff of seeds, a leaf dangling from a spider’s thread, all marvels.

“I think what one should do is write in an ordinary way and make the writing seem extraordinary. One should write, too, about what is ordinary and see the extraordinary behind it.”     Jean Rhys

And there is art, my own and the sweep of art history. In my painting and sculpture I too attempt, like Jean Rhys, to transform the ordinary and overlooked; details of farm machinery––panels and bolts, light and shadow crossing metal and plastic surfaces––become complex formal compositions. When I was a younger artist I felt the need to make large dramatic paintings, but now I value intimacy and close looking. And I value being part of a very long tradition of picture making by Homo sapiens going back 40,000 years, when humans painted in caves, making images of remarkable sensitivity. We don’t know the purpose of these paintings, but to me they indicate a need to recreate the world, to make something beautiful from nothing. Across millennia peoples have made images and have decorated objects, not from necessity but from desire. One of my deepest pleasures is to wander the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC for hours, crossing the globe, visiting favorite objects and discovering new ones. I’ve long felt that art-making was an essential part of being human but was nevertheless startled to read the following while writing this piece; it appears in the NY Review of Books November 24th issue, in a review about brain science by the early pre-history professor Steven Mithen. He asks “what gave us ‘the Homo sapiens advantage’?”

It wasn’t brain size because the Neanderthals matched Homo sapiens. My guess is that it may have been another invention: perhaps symbolic art that could extend the power of those 86 billion neurons.…

I am part of a tradition of making; I am part of the world. In paying close attention to both, I find meaning. 



September 14, 2016

On Presence in Art

Piero della Francesca, Saint Augustine, 1454-69; oil and tempera on panel, 53 1/3 x 26 1/6 in.
images courtesy of the Frick Collection website 


Three years ago there was a remarkable exhibition at the Frick Collection, Piero della Francesca in America. At the time, I wrote about this painting of Saint Augustine:
Standing in front of this painting of Saint Augustine, in the Oval Room at the Frick Collection, was like being in the presence of a powerful soul, one who looks past the immediacy of dailiness to an inward essence of life and faith.


Seated Luohan, ca. 1000, Yixian, Hebei Province, China. Earthenware with 3 color glaze, 41 inches high.


The quality of character in the Piero––a direct severity and inner calm––was similar to that of the sculpture of a Buddhist holy man.


Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Painting: Black Rectangle, Blue Triangle, 1915, oil on canvas, 
22 1/2 x 26 1/8 in.


How do I describe presence when it doesn't apply solely to figurative art? Malevich's simple abstract paintings go beyond a design with two shapes on a plane; there's a sense of physical weight, and emotional depth. They are two shapes that express a reality beyond the shadows in Plato's cave.


Ellsworth Kelly, Black Relief III, 2010; Oil on canvas, two joined panels; 75 1/4 x 65 3/8 inches.


I feel similarly about Ellsworth Kelly's work. A sweep of black on a white rectangle, beautifully balanced, moves out towards us as though inhabiting the space before it, not satisfied to settle onto the wall. Here also, shapes become essences.


Richard Serra, Every Which Way, 2015; weatherproof steel, 16 slabs, overall 11 ft x 53 ft 6 in x 21 ft. 


Richard Serra's sculptural drama and its huge size can't help but having tremendous presence. This work in particular was very strong, with the slabs standing like personages, and silent witnesses to our tragic events.


Catherine Murphy, Polka Dotted Dress, 2009; oil on canvas, 52 x 52 in.


Of contemporary representational painters, I think that Catherine Murphy's work most clearly embodies an idea of presence, where common objects become much more than themselves, transcending their particularities and becoming dense with meaning.

I am thinking about this quality now because I realize that as I work on my paintings (see recent paintings here), I push them from a fluid, painterly beginning to a solid and clear form, form with a sense of weight that I hope leads to presence. The precision in my paintings and sculpture (see recent relief sculpture here) is not aiming to be photographically "realistic" but to get at the essential, the tangible, to conjure an image that speaks emphatically. This is a quality that I don't believe exists in my textiles (see here and here), which are objects rather than presences. Presence does not define good art; it's just one element that might or might not be a part of the work. So, readers, what do you think about this quality? is it something you think about or believe is important, or maybe not?


June 26, 2016

A Hiatus....




I began writing this blog on August 1, 2009, so it will soon be 7 years old. It was quite different when I began, with many brief posts each week, but as time went on I wrote longer posts which were more thoughtfully (I hope) developed. It's been a pleasure sharing my ideas about art and books and films and nature with you, dear readers, but now I need a break. Of course, if I want to write about something from time to time, I will do so, but I have to get away from feeling obligated to write. Even writing about my own work sometimes bores me...enough already! According to Blogger, I've written 1,459 posts, and they're all accessible. You can look through them by the labels listed at the right side of the online blog––such as art history, recipes, reading and writing, ruminations––(for email subscribers, click on "Studio and Garden" at the top of the page to get to the web version); you can also put search terms in the box at the top of the page, or simply click through to older posts. I have an active presence on Facebook, posting nature and art images almost daily, so you can follow me there. I will continue to show my new work on Facebook, and you can see albums of earlier work too.

Thank you so much for your kind interest; it's been fun, and I may be back at any time.....

June 23, 2016

A New Textile: "Surround"


Surround, hand dyed wool on linen; overall 13 1/4 x 22 1/2 in.


Two shapes, illusionistically modeled, surround a third. The colors are related in that I mixed the blue and magenta to make the purple. Although the cool red shape is not modeled to seem as though it has three dimensions, the irregularity of the dye process adds some lively variation to the color. I wanted that shape to be flat, as an anchor to the others. 


Surround detail


In order to get the range of values for this piece....


Surround detail


....and for this, I dip dyed a piece of wool so that one end had more dye and the other less, with a graduated range of color across the wool. I hooked the wool vertically, which helped with the illusion. At first I had hooked the blue piece following the curved outlines, but it looked awful; I pulled all the wool out and began again, with vertical lines.


Surround detail


For the magenta piece I hooked the wool in lines following the outline of its irregular shape. All the parts of this piece are related, yet different, following each other in their curved outlines. 


June 20, 2016

In the Cuban Vanguard: Three Women Artists


Amelia Pelaez (1896-1968), Tray with Fruit, 1941; oil on canvas in original frame, 28 x 35 in.


It is wonderful when a gallery offers us the opportunity to see work that is unfamiliar, from a country or culture generally overlooked. Galerie Lelong, in their exhibition (until June 25) Constructivist Dialogs in the Cuban Vanguard: Amelia Pelaez, Lolo Soldevilla, & Zilia Sanchez does just that. The show presents the work of three women who worked in modernist styles, each different, and each engaging. They were all supported by the Lyceum women's club gallery in Havana. Pelaez, the earliest of these three artists, worked with cubist ideas (she studied in Paris in the early 1930s) but her vivid sense of color, the heat and rhythm coming from Tray with Fruit, is culturally Cuban.


Amelia Palaez, Untitled, 1959; gouache on paper, 22 x 30 in.


Intense color shines from behind a lattice of black lines in the painting above, an image thought to derive from Cuba's mediopuntos, colonial period stained glass windows.


Amelia Pelaez, Untitled, 1952; hand painted ceramic, 5.1 inches high.


This delightful piece with its lively lines is a painting in three dimensions.


Loló Soldevilla (1901-1971), Stabile, 1954; metal and wood, 16 x 19 x 3.5 in.


Soldevilla's work seems much more tied to European constructivism in its geometric forms than that of the more image-oriented Pelaez. She too spent time in Paris, in the early 1950s. Stabile has five elements in balance: the solid squares atop verticals, the open circles rolling on horizontals; the piece does not move, yet appears fluid; it bounces.


Loló Soldevilla, Astral Dream, 1957; mixed media on wood with wooden components,
30 1/2 x 39 1/2 x 1 1/4 in.


Looking at this relief is like looking at the night sky, trying to find patterns within the random shapes and colors.


Loló Soldevilla, Untitled (Construction), 1954; painted wood, 15 x 22 x 2 1/2 in.


I like that the regularity of this piece is disrupted by the roughness of the cut circles and background.


Loló Soldevilla, Untitled, 1954; collage on paper, 11 x 9 in.


Soldevilla also made some beautiful small collages, of geometric forms that are slightly offbeat.....


Loló Soldevilla, both: Untitled, 1954; collage on paper, 9 x 11 in


....or more pure. The bright colors bring a lighthearted lilt to the work.


Zilia Sanchez, Amazons, 1993; acrylic on stretched canvas, 71 x 72 x 12 in.


Zilia Sanchez's sculptural paintings are wild and sexy and sensual; their sedate blues and whites keep them grounded in cool abstraction.


Zilia Sanchez, Moon V, c. 1973; acrylic on stretched canvas, 74 3/4 x 79 1/2 x 10 in.


Swelling forms, interlocking....


Zilia Sanchez, Erotic Topology (of the Amazons series), 1968; acrylic on stretched canvas,
41 x 56 x 12 in.


....or simply protruding....


Zilia Sanchez, White Moon, 1984/89; acrylic on stretched canvas, 23 3/4 x 19 x 4 3/4 in.


....create poetic metaphors of the body, and of longing. All three of these artists––of different periods and education and even places of residence (Sanchez left Cuba in 1962)––came from a Cuban sensibility, but one also connected to widespread artistic thought; with these elements they each created an exciting body of work that I was very happy to see.