Marguerite Thompson Zorach (1887 – 1968)

 

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com.

As one of America’s leading modernist painters of the early 21st century, Marguerite Thompson Zorach combined the wild colour play of the Fauvists with a propensity for the rural. Also responsible for helping to introduce Cubist ideas to the masses, her style later abandoned painting altogether in favour of creating embroider tapestries.

 ‘Signs of Autumn’ – 1930 

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This work of great delicacy often feels to me as two paintings put together. The top half being a wonderful form of mountains, with the settling sun emanating a rich warmth from between the valley. And the bottom acting as a far more traditional Fauvist image, with its bold tones and squiggled shores. Indeed the division in of itself seems to evoke its title, with the slumbered glow of Summer in the background giving way to the first inklings of Autumn in the fore.

But this is not a scene of reverent and calm beauty however. Our perspective on the painting is soon broken by the darting, near mechanical birds whose wingspan draws us to the odd boil at the middle of the lake. The motion of the birds though simple is effective, the three essentially acting as one in a showcase of spreading wings. As for the unusual spot in the centre,  it feels a sign of the unseen endless bustle of life especially dominant in the first signs of a season.

The abstraction doesn’t distract too much however, perhaps because like most Fauvist work, we appreciate the inherent medley of the style rather than its evocation of reality. Water is more deep fog here, something that purls across the bed rather than fill it.

‘Landscape with trucks and barn’

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Untroubled by people or animals, the recognisable elements of humanity here are de-emphasised in favour of the countryside scene. A landscape enlivened by emerald and peach hues that show dialogue with the celestial sky above. And one that acts as the antithesis of the buildings all dull and clumsy, with their cold presence as solid as the hunched mountains behind.

This is a place to be celebrated for its own beauty, rather than the reality we recognise it to hold. The tree outcrops that offer a midpoint between the houses and the mountains are especially well realised. Their minute strokes gathering weight from far away as forests do.

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Jeffrey Smart (1921 – 2013)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

Despite being one of Australia’s most acclaimed and accomplished painters, Jeffrey Smart’s recognition here in England is as enigmatic as his work. Which is a shame really as through their stark and striking portrayals of the everyday, his paintings intrigue in the way that they attain a certain absurd quality in spite of always showcasing familiar & believable realities. There are no half-fish women here then, rather the emphasis is on order and shape, with the painter once poignantly declaring that: “The subject matter is only the hinge that opens the door, the hook on which hangs a coat. My only concern is putting the right shapes in the right colours in the right places. It is always the geometry”

‘Reflected Arrows’ – 1974

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At the centre of this image a cluster of recognisable arrow symbols collect. Whilst normally alone on a roadside they hold little significance, now bundled together in a shape that seems itself an arrow of sorts pointed at the viewer, they obtain a strange coherence and power. The three on the left especially all seem to point up to a uniformed worker, one whose gaze follows the suggestion of the blue circles towards us in reserved disinterest. At the far right a more relaxed figure can be seen, his face barely visible against the fleshy pallor of the long back wall.

It is the way the signs behave with the water rather than before us however that is the most interesting part of the painting. In spite of nothing beyond the usual being displayed – just mere directional signs above puddles – the level of fragmentation and abstraction suggests a surrealist element to this anonymous building site corner. From the various waters come new angles and reflections that are jagged and cut in the shallow sections. Some arrows point down and meet themselves in infinite reflection, others suggest new directions and distance.

Just as the signifiers obtain symmetry or disjunction through the floor, Smart coyly suggests equanimity between the long orange slick of the worker’s reflection through the water and the single high-rise building cutting above the top right of the image. We are reminded then in both cases of a world tantalisingly outside all of this. These signs eventually after all, have to go somewhere, serving some direction beyond the canvas.

‘The Traveller’ – 1973

Jeffrey Smart (23)

I love the funnelling of our perspective in this piece, the way that Smart draws us squinting down between the two coaches to the eponymous ‘Traveller’ at their parked centre. The severity of color here is also wonderful, with the crisp yellows and reds of the left vehicle dragging our gaze further inward until the open door curves towards the mysterious passenger standing aloof.

Through the masterful reflection work between the left coach into the right, Smart evokes a wonderful netherworld of instability. With the aforementioned crisp reds becoming muttered & muted, the traveller’s face too is distorted by the holding bay clasps. It isn’t only the right vehicle that twists its surroundings however, in the high windows of the left coach too the seemingly cupcake background behind the man is echoed onward in the mirrored windows.

We can assume perhaps that the man is a rep of sorts, a mover that never stays still, which lends the deathly ambience of the scene an altogether more developed sense of quiet. He seems of another world really, and if it wasn’t for the subtle open window on the high edge of the left coach, it would seem that he was the only one there.

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Donna Norine Schuster (1883 – 1953)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

Paintings are such fragile things in terms of composition. Their meaning predicated on the relation of the single to the whole and vice versa. Here, in two works by the somewhat obscure American Watercolourist, Donna Norine Schuster, the everyday is  drawn elsewhere through subtle twists and shifts.

‘Girl in a Pink Dress’

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If, before you ever set eyes on the painting above you, it was described purely in terms of its visual components, nothing would seem off within an imagination of the work. ‘There’s a well dressed woman at ease looking from the canvas’, a description may begin; ‘behind her a solid wall of wildflowers provides the background along with the wide spread of a parasol that she is holding, which shields much of the right hand floral spread from view’.

On first sight of ‘Girl in a Pink Dress’ however, any semblance to reality slips as a subtle sense of unease spreads across the work. The girl, for one, has a deathly pallor in the face. A tone no doubt from the arch of the shading parasol, but an aspect nonetheless that creates a certain disquiet within the experience. Unlike the earlier explored works of Rene Magritte, there is nothing, as the earlier description idea demonstrates, fundamentally untoward about the painting. It is but then a certain slanting of perspective, a particular angle of expression, that makes the painting worthwhile and more importantly, interesting.

Interesting especially in considering the parasol less of an abstractive force and more as something that acts literally as it would in reality. The girl’s face is shaded by the cover then just as we are from portions of the floral background. Schuster plays excellently here with shade in her evocation of the subject, such as contrasting edges and tufts her hair for example, with the right a delicate bushel of darkened lines, and the left more vibrant in the sun.

This odd play with colour encourages us to look further, past the girl and into the recesses of the work. The wash of garden for example behind the sitter gathers as an interesting medley of tones, but lacks any sense of depth or truth, seemingly more in line wallpaper than the botanical. It is no surprise then that in such a slight confusing image, that the parasol handle is afforded more detail and depth than anything else in the work.

Regardless of the interesting paraphernalia surrounding, this is, after all, a portrait. One in which when scrutinised, the feminine stare appears to be in conflict. The left one of warmth, coupled to an inviting toothy smile, the right however all but dilapidated, staring out over our shoulder and elsewhere.

‘Miss Livingston at the Piano’

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Heavily recurrent within Schuster’s work is the figure of the woman alone, normally with some sort of instrument or activity, lost in thought. The idea is indeed nothing new or transformative, see Alex Colville’s ‘Chanteuse’ here for an interesting modern adaptation, but the connotations it brings: of privacy, introspection and personal rapture, are always worth investigating.

At the window a heavy light is kept out by thick yellowed curtains. Indeed yellow dominates the entire proceedings, from the foreign font above the ivory keys, to the plant pot and even the finish on the open piano lid. As a result of this consistency there is a meditative unity about the whole, a sense that in catching the player with her eyes closed, we too can play rapt to the image. Everything is bathed in some sort of reflection of the other, giving a near holiness to what is a fairly common stock image for painters and everyone alike.

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Konrad Krzyzanowski (1872 – 1922)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

I’ve no clue of Konrad Kryzanowski’s life beyond the artist’s scant Wikipedia entry. Having discovered him through seeing ‘Girl at Piano’ as a small side image within a book of European Modernism, I set off intrigued to find more. But aside from learning Polish, it seems I’ve reached a biographical dead-end. Which I don’t mind really. Sometimes it’s oddly fulfilling to find an artist, painter or otherwise, that has little to nothing written about them. Kryzanowski then, an obscure expressionist rediscovered by a blogger too obscure to even be called obscure.

‘Chmury’ – 1906

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Epic yet homely, comforting yet confrontational, Chmury overwhelms and resonates through its sheer expressionist force. The clouds here aren’t mere white dappling on a skyline, rather Kryzanowski imbues them with a sovereignty and energy all of their own. At the far right the smeared brushstroke cumulus appears not only to leap higher, but also to have taken some of the sky with it, ripping the canvas edge to reveal a foundation brown underneath.Whilst down on the left, a cloud seems to have collided with the ground, trapping itself against the foundation and intermingling with dirt.

The use of colour is tremendous, with the blue sky tide-like in its subtle depth and change. The horizon too is executed masterfully, as pink sunset drifts hover and mingle against the more assured tones of the floor. Through the near mythic shapes above, Kryzyanowski captures that staggering feeling of reverence felt when staring skyward at moving kingdoms of cloud. Indeed, looking at them quickly becomes a reflective experience, one which like in real life, becomes suggestive in of itself of shapes and patterns.

Perhaps in the hollow pocket of the towering left vapour a bird can be seen shilouetted and perched?  Maybe the right clump evokes an eagle of sorts, soaring upward on its wide opened wingspan? Who knows? This is, after all, part of the beauty and enjoyment of painting. The sense that our own interpretation is as individual and cultivated as the faces that we often see high up in the clouds, but that others refuse and contradict.

‘Girl at Piano’ – 1907

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Evoked through a subtle stuttering brush, ‘Girl at Piano’, presents a scene as simple as its title. The child herself seems relaxed in repose rather than a player, both her folded hands and absent face realised in the most minute of movements. Similarly to the aforementioned Chmury, a sense of size is conveyed expertly.  A piano is of course a huge instrument, but one that to a child especially conveys a gigantic almost monstrous nature. There is a feeling of abstraction here then, that these two things belong to the same world but exist entirely apart from one another. Both the girl and the piano are ignored, resigned to merely waiting for something to happen.

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