Tuesday, October 22, 2013
The Eclectic Eye: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. by Rosalind Bickel, Eds. Karen Jacobson and Alison Pearlman Published by C & C Printing, Frida by Alison Van Pelt
The Eclectic Eye: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation.
by Rosalind Bickel, Eds. Karen Jacobson and Alison Pearlman
Published by C & C Printing
Alison Van Pelt describes her paintings as “my way of merging the ancient tradition of portraiture with contemporary abstraction.” Poised halfway between recognizable images and indecipherable blurs, her enigmatic faces and figures have been linked to holograms because of the way they seem to float in a mysterious depth of space and to the work of Mark Rothko because of the way they evoke a realm of transcendence, a metaphysical state.
Van Pelt has said that she is most interested in ambiguity and in exploring “the edge between annihilation and a clear reality.” In addition to Rothko, one of her most important inspirations in this respect is the figural paintings of Francis Bacon, whose work she encountered during a stay in Paris in 1988. Van Pelt was “taken with the way he smeared paint on the face” and how he was able to “transform images into fluid mutating visions that dissolve, melt and erupt into ambiguity.” Like Bacon, Van Pelt also bases much of her preliminary work on photographs; she selects a photograph, from which she paints a realistic portrait, and then, while the paint is still wet, she obscures the image by dragging a dry brush across the surface of the canvas. She has a very controlled, delicate approach to what she calls the “destruction” of the image. Her evenly applied vertical and horizontal brush strokes seem to lift the image into and onto a kind of floating veil or screen as it wavers in and out of visibility. The image can appear sharp and distinct from some angles, while up close it can melt away into nothingness.
Van Pelt has applied her distinctive smeared or blurred style to a number of different subjects, including boxers, birds in flight, and female nudes. In each case, she subtly plays upon the relation between motion and stasis, time and timelessness, reality and abstraction. Agnes Martin is from her most recent body of work, The Women, a series of portraits of women artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Alice Neel, and Louise Bourgeois. Born in 1912, Agnes Martin is known for her monochromatic abstract paintings. Her canvases are often composed of grids or other geometric structures that are barely perceptible. Van Pelt’s especially vague and delicate rendering of Martin’s face in this work clearly evokes and pays homage to the older artist’s distinctive and influential minimal style. At times clouding over into an indistinct blur and at times standing out in sharp chiaroscuro, Martin’s face hovers, resembling a religious icon or ancestral portrait. R. B.
Quoted in George Melrod, “Femme Noir”, World Art, no. 12 (December 1997): 52.
Quoted in Robert Scheer, “Local LA,” Los Angeles Times, 6 August 1998.
Melrod, “Femme Noir,” 54.
Quoted in Dr. Jonas Wright, “Flight and the Figure: The Paintings of Alison Van Pelt,” in Flight and the Figure: The Paintings of Alison Van Pelt (Los Angeles: Rusconi, 1999), 5.