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Eye Candy

April 4, 2011

Roberta Smith’s art always delights me. There is a searching intelligence behind it, whatever medium she explores. Her oil paintings on display at the library might be called a series, but there’s hardly a repeated element among the works.

I think “Soliphilia” and “Solastalgia” might be the most related images. Roberta can use rich, vibrant color without it becoming “candy,” although there’s something so palpable about these images you could almost eat them.

As Roberta explains in her artist’s statement: “These non-objective oil paintings playfully explore overlays of shapes and colors that are often inspired by the view from my inevitable choice of a window seat on an airliner.”

You can look for a recognizable landscape. “Upside Down” looks like something you might see from the air, maybe on a winter flight, but only because you know to look at it that way.

“Open Secret” much less so, and it kept catching my eye at various distances. “Aerial Perspective #5” looks more explicitly like a view from a plane, but then not so. It’s more a cubist view of Earth.

I’ve erased several attempts to describe the paintings in the “Aerial Perspective” series. They may be non-objective, but they’re also non-discursive. They are feelings, is the best I can say.

When I look at them, the colors, shapes, surfaces evoke an emotional response, and there’s a delight in connecting to the mind that saw all that and produced the image. It’s like the delight in reading a favorite author who sees the world in an unfamiliar yet accessible way.

These feelings in the paintings are akin to the feelings one has, often without recognizing them, when looking at landscape paintings. We have deep responses to landscapes: to light, prospect (or view), refuge (or a sense of safety) versus hazard.

Of course, psychologists study this. Boys have been found to prefer more “hazardous” landscapes compared with girls. There are certain relationships between prospect and refuge that seem most preferable to humans.

I don’t know how prospect and refuge work from a window seat, though—great prospect but no refuge.

It would be interesting to compare one’s response to a collection of aerial photographs with one’s feelings about paintings of abstract landscapes. One might be tempted to say of an aerial photo, “Oh! It’s like a painting!” But, what does that mean?

I like my responses to Roberta’s paintings. A couple, “Safety Hazard” and “Topophilia,” have a calligraphic application of color, perhaps Roberta’s version of string theory. The influence of calligraphy has been evident elsewhere in Roberta’s work, including previous shows at the library.

So, I’ve managed to be discursive about non-discursive images, but it spoils the experience. Best to come to the library and enjoy Roberta’s work, which will be up until the beginning of May, when submissions for the library’s challenge show will be hung.

Yes, tempus fugit, but you still have plenty of time to prepare your entry for “Haiku: Capturing the Essence.” More information is available at the library or on our website.

You might remember last year’s challenge show joined poets and artists together in fascinating ways. This year, we limit the poetry to haiku, in part for something different, in part because haiku literature has a long history of fusion with visual art.

The book display in the lobby is currently about haiku, for your edification and enjoyment.

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