Janet Fish, Paul Wiesenfeld, Kornblee Gallery, Robert Schoelkopf (1976)



 After three-quarters of a century devoted to aesthetic manipulation often devoid of genuine human and artistic meaning, is it not time for a new art of content and significance to develop? With the current revival of interest in realism, it seems that serious artists want to explore again the visual and emotional richness of the physical world.


 The abstract art of the past seven decades seems to indicate an inability, or at least lack of desire, to come to grips with real people. If the human figure is represented, it remains an aesthetic conglomerate rather than a living being. Even many realists today treat the human figure impersonally as a still-life object without mind, emotion or soul; or they ignore it altogether, painting instead man-made and natural objects.


 To say this is not to criticize the artists, but only to indicate how apparently difficult it is for artists -- for artists as people -- to deal meaningfully with their fellow humanity. While this situation is certainly disturbing, it can no longer be considered surprising given how long it has been going on, how psychologically withdrawn artists (and by extension, many of the rest of us) must be from an emotional and creative responsiveness to the world.


 It is a difficult road back from such isolation and alienation -- to say nothing of the mannered manipulations of modernism -- to the world of humanity, reality and significant creation. Not only is there the psychological barrier to overcome, but an artistic vocabulary -- both timeless and pertinent to our time -- to be developed. We need not begin painting like Rembrandt, though we can respond to the world as fully as he did. Neither can we continue the two-dimensional cartooning so popular today. The means for the resuscitation of art can only be discovered by hard trying and hard looking.


 Janet Fish (Kornblee, October 16 -) has begun this process. Hers is a world of goblets and glassware, gleaming and crystalline in family groups in her studio window. There they catch and reflect the brilliance of light and nuance of reflection of factory loft buildings across the street. Fish loves the light and the endless possibilities of pattern created by its warping and faceting through the glass, which turns solemn buildings into sliding, slipping apparitions out of Soutine.


 Fish repeats this theme with variations over and over. In her large canvases (up to five feet by six in size), there may be six or seven immense goblets, some inverted, some partially filled with water (to further affect the light and world filtering through them). The colors are determined by what she sees through the lens of the glass. If, for example, some of the glasses are blue, that color pervades the canvas with accents of yellow, orange and red-brown. These glasses (and what they do to reality beyond) are Fish's world.


 To this viewer, Fish succeeds in combining (as all good artists must) an exploration of her inner being with the essence of the outer, physical world. Within the coolness and emotional safety of this crystal world, an expressionist-symbolist temperament is at work in the very personal and emotionally resonant shapes that Fish makes of the loops and twists of light and reflection within the glasses. As Edward Hopper gave his own melancholy loneliness of soul to his buildings, so Janet Fish tells us something similar about herself in her choice of glassware as her subject, through which to filter, limit, contain and explore the reality of the world.


 Paul Wiesenfeld (Schoelkopf, October 5- ) has similar concerns. Wiesenfeld's lonely world is a single room in his German home (which, according to gallery directory Robert Schoelkopf, is roped off and understood to be off-limits to the rest of his family). Within this room, a single large plant, a sofa, a brightly-colored, geometrically-designed rug, a small wooden cabinet and a glass coffee table supporting a variety of apples, oranges, pots and compotes, are the sum total of subjects for Wiesenfeld's art. Wiesenfeld, who produces only two and a half paintings a year, paints this carefully selected and controlled, limited environment, in which the human figure is not allowed to enter, with meticulous conviction.


 There are six works (and about a dozen drawings) in the show, each approximately four by five feet in size. The earlier paintings (1974) are brighter in color and stronger in contrast of values; the more recent work is softer, hazier in execution. Time has also wrought changes in Wiesenfeld's artistic materials: the plain grey sofa of the earlier paintings, for example, has been re-covered with a richly decorated fabric featuring dragons and orientalized abstract designs.


 Where Janet Fish's technique is comparatively rough and expressive, Wiesenfeld builds his forms smoothly and with great care and precision. His is a classical art, rigorously organized, with the contrasting verticals and horizontals of much of the furniture, the spheres of fruit, and the curvilinear contour of sofa and irregular, but highly controlled growth of the plant working in carefully judged harmony. Each leaf of the plant is a carefully-modeled, light-glinting form within the orchestrated structure of the plant as a whole.


 The paintings are essentially still-lifes, their elements skirting, but not quite attaining, the quality of symbol that often results from intense observation. Paul Wiesenfeld, sitting in the doorway painting this protected room, has certainly observed the elements of that room; and there is no question that he is an accomplished technician. It might be said, however, that his extreme visual focus, as admirable as it is, may limit his expressive intensity and range. Perhaps flirting with academicism in the narrowness of his concerns, Paul Wiesenfeld's paintings clearly reflect the struggle of contemporary realist artists to come to terms with the world a step at a time, after three-quarters of a century of abstraction.



 Janet Fish (1994)


 Janet Fish is an expressive painter, both in the freedom of her style and the revelation of deep feelings. In nominally realist still-lifes, at the Joy Tash Gallery in Scottsdale, there often seem to be such significant contrasts between light, smooth, whole forms and dark, roughly textured, jagged ones that they appear to represent opposing forces in the psyche.


 In other words, Fish is making universal symbolic statements expressing the mixed hope, beauty and struggle to live in our time. As such, they have great creative and cathartic value for the artist and public alike.


 "Patzcurao," 42 x 92, an oil still-life set against a peaceful turquoise sea, is filled with sun-glowing fruit and flowers, a riot of rich yellows, oranges and reds which contrasts with a darker, more somber note in the black seeds revealed inside a cut melon, a warty fruit that is a skull or upside-down "trickster" face, and above all, a green-black samovar crusted in metallic rosettes, and as prickly as a belligerent porcupine or any movie "gremlin."


 Fish formerly expressed her complex vision through faceted glassware that splintered light and form. There are remnants of this theme of isolation, pain and refuge in crystalline purity and detachment, in "Decanter and Broken Bowl," oil, 32 x 20, although the color is greatly intensified to red. Multiple, excited, linear brush-strokes construct the decanter as it rises with such self-assertive force from an agitated table surface that it "shatters" a bowl of strawberries behind.


 Fish creates emotional impact by enlarging her objects, literally thrusting them in our faces, so that contact between viewer and subject, viewer and artist, is insured. Her still-life and floral serigraphs are also unusually strong, organic and expressive for that generally emotionally detached medium.


 Janet Fish is an artist in touch with herself and nature, no mean feat for a contemporary artist.




Copyright by Don Gray


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