Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Adela Leibowitz: Luminous Dreamscapes

Adela Leibowitz is a painter you will hear much more about in the next few years. Her work is a portal into other worlds. The three examples above are all oil on linen, painted in 2008: Les fleurs du mal (Flowers of evil); Masque of the Red Death; History of Sin.

Click here for more about Adela.

Adela kindly answered a few questions for us.

Lobster & Canary 1. Reviewers frequently refer to the "dreamlike" quality of your work-- which I will echo. Do you find that a fitting descriptor, and, if so, why? Are your images taken from your dreams?

Adela: Dreamlike is a good description. The images aren’t taken from my dreams, but the moods or impressions that the dreams leave behind do make their way in.

2. Reviewers also note the "luminous" quality of your technique. Your use of color emerging (if the lobster can coin a phrase) reminds us a little of Turner, or of the French Impressionists. Do you paint studies for your finished pieces, playing with and adjusting the quality of the light? How do you know when you have hit just the right mood?

Adela: I guess some things just feel right, other times you just know when it’s not. Sometimes it’s a search and takes quite a few layers of addition and subtraction to kind of push in the direction where you want it to go. I’ve done studies and other times I don’t do any studies and just jump right in. I usually regret when I don’t do studies first because a lot more paint goes into pushing it in different directions. Then again, sometimes really unexpected positive things happen in that process, so it can work out both ways.

3. Your early Nowhere series (2001) is stark and eldritch, full of lurking fairytale menace. I expect to see a werewolf or a bloody-beaked crow emerge from the woods in "Struwwelpeter Road" and "Juniper Trees." Any plans to return to those themes?

Adela: Not in the near future, but I think they carried through to the present in different ways.

4.Your next two series captured a different set of moods (so it seems to the lobster and canary), no less sinister but more uncertain, elusive. The muted colors, the few and flattened shapes make for an oddly intimate arrangement, given the cryptic nature of "The Awakening," for instance, or "Blackwell." Do you think you are making the viewer complicit in whatever is happening here? The lobster thinks of Twin Peaks and Donnie Darko when he views these-- the canary also thinks of "Las Meninas" by Velasquez. Apt comparisons?

Adela" I love all those references you mentioned. They’re all great. I don’t consciously think of making the viewer complicit in what’s happening. But I think it’s natural to identify with one of the figures more so than others, in any multiple figure painting. The images come about really intuitively, most of the time.

5.Your most recent work is on a wholly different scale, and introduces new painterly techniques. We are thinking especially of "Les fleurs du mal" and "Masque of the Red Death," each of which is panoramic with large Palladian spaces peopled by many small figures-- all women. In the former, the figures look like cardboard cutouts placed upright on the floor, and in the latter, there is a set of box-like shelves containing the figures...dolls! The viewpoint is from midair, further emphasizing the doll-like nature of the figures. You've constructed dollhouse stages upon which the viewer can compose his or her own dramas, manipulating the dolls-- while in "Fleurs" helpfully (!) suggesting some of the scenarios viewers might design. We think what you have done is masterful: you've created a silent but very compelling immersive and interactive environment, as powerful (for being less explicit) as a video game. Your thoughts on our interpretation?

Adela: I like the dollhouse interpretation and that it inspired you to write a long paragraph on them! Once a painting is finished I wouldn’t try to change or influence any impression or reading of them.

6. "Fleurs" and "Masque" also impress because of their deep, playful knowledge of Western art history. We catch references to Gainsborough, Hogarth, various Dutch painters of the 17th century, Zoffany's "Conversation Piece," Raphael's "School of Athens," and we are sure we could find others quickly enough. Talk to us about your research into the past-- how does that inform your work?

Adela: I spent a lot of time at The Metropolitan Museum, The Frick, The Cloisters, and Strand books. After the research, I cut loose and kind of channeled whatever images came up into my head as I went along.

7. If we could summarize your work so far, we would suggest that you are depicting psychological states particular to women (given that virtually no males appear in any of your pieces). If that is roughly accurate, will you continue to explore that territory, and will you do so using the techniques you have shown us so far?

Adela: That’s a very accurate description. I will definitely continue that. I’ve tried painting men into the pictures, but I end up turning them into women anyways. As for technique - I don’t think I can answer for the future in any definitive way!

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