Creative Insight: Fine Arts and Poetry
"Painting – Musical Architecture"
by Rosalyn Jacobs
If I had two words to describe my painting they would be "Musical Architecture." Music has always interested me. As a child and teenager I played accordion, clarinet, guitar and harmonica and seriously thought of becoming a musician. Little did I know then that the musician in me would have such a featured role in my painting process: the movement of paint through space creating a composition that has notes of color, tone, rhythm, texture and various other fundamentals of music.
A piece of music is presented in its entirety in "real" time. With paintings you can see the whole composition at once but select the duration of time in which to view the painting. As you observe it you begin to see the passage of time unfold before you in the layers of paint applied. You can feel what the artist is trying to say to you. You can then begin to "hear" the painting.
As much as music was and is an influence on my life I think I was born with a pencil in my hand. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing. Babies want to experience the world with their senses and begin studying their surroundings by putting everything into their mouths---understanding objects not by naming them but by tasting them. Around three years old when I was beginning to digest some of these worldly "tastings" I did it in a visual and tactile way—by drawing. When I paint and draw I still do not name the objects. Any recognition or representation arises out of the understanding of light, movement and texture creating shape in space. The objects name themselves and the names belong to the larger context of the composition.
Art begins for me as a meditation. I empty myself as I face a blank canvas leaving my thoughts, worries, hopes and fears behind. Part of the discipline of art, like meditation, is staying in the present moment. There is an element of that baby state with me when I begin a painting--the desire to taste, smell and experience everything—senses intermingling. My breathing relaxes and I feel almost as though I am in a trance. The painting takes hold of me and we're off –communing with what is essential.
The painting " Turkish Bath in the Year 2000," 5' x 6', is a culmination of a body of work that includes monoprints, pastels, oil paintings and drawings based on Ingres' "le Bain Turc" painted in 1862. It is a narrative on sensuousness where the flowing contours of women are abandoned to sleep, reflection, music and finally, each other. Respectful of Ingres' classical forms, my imagination has invoked different musical compositions in paint and other mediums. It is usually the movement that I see and feel that is the impetus to re-define and re-create the old masters' work. If you look at the seated figure in the lower left hand side of "Turkish Bath in the Year 2000" you see how that figure is broken up into different planes. There is a cubistic understanding where the figure is analyzed from different angles and points of view and synthesized into one form. The paint itself dripping in places and solid in others gives a sense of impermanence and intractability simultaneously. The figures merge together in some places and are off on their own in others but all are related through mixtures of paint in varied application.
Matisse talked about finding his plumb line and building his arabesque around it. The plumb line or understanding of gravity is the painter and architect's requirement for building a solid foundation. Where I go with these tools is always an adventurous mystery.
"Nestled Houses," 28" x 38", is a semi-abstract landscape where the montage of shapes relate to the flat picture plane and create a sense of space. Transparent paint mixtures comprise broad areas while denser luminous brushstrokes of paint help bring the viewer to the hollow creating a cozy atmosphere. Strong sweeping diagonals moving through the solidly horizontal houses with the strong vertical tree on the left conspire to give the viewer a vibrant sense of safety. The reflective sky mirrors the way water might fusing elements but reading as sky.
Growing up in an immigrant home in NY's Washington Heights and later the Bronx in the 50's and 60's exposed me to a kind of immediacy and sense of purpose in life. I lived in a household with parents, aunts and uncles who all survived concentration camps in Poland. Having the legacy of the Holocaust with me at all times makes me feel a certain exigency to paint and an urgency not only to feel alive but to cherish that life. It also gives me an awareness of death and impermanence in life. That has been both a burden and a gift. When I work I feel death standing on my shoulder, and I think that enables me to go further. When I'm standing there and needing to push myself, saying, "I can't just stop here, because that's not the whole story, I need to tell the whole story. There is no other time to say it but now…" You know, that's with me, the need to tell the truth, the whole – the good and the bad, to not be in denial about anything. All those elements are with me when I paint.
While my painting is motivated by my perception of the world I am not interested in a literal interpretation of that world— I prefer the metaphor to the simile –My work represents neither a purely abstract nor a super realistic vision. It walks the border of the abstract and concrete---it is the tension between these two realities that fascinates me. And each subject demands a different response. I aim for an imaginative realism where sensuality, intuition, spirit and mind coalesce.
Charles Baudelaire asked the question: "What is pure art according to the modern idea?" And in the next breath he answered his own question: "It is the creation of an evocative magic, containing at once the object and the subject, the world external to the artist and the artist himself." I relate to the "modern idea" defined by Baudelaire and while seeking to capture the aura of the eternal and how it lives in our present times I hope to touch the inscrutable mystery in life and draw it out for others to feel.
For me art is something that gives the soul a ground to stand on. Through art we can speak to each other through the centuries. Souls can touch. There is an eternal quality that traverses time and needs no explanation. For artists, indeed for everyone, reaching from soul to soul is essential and there are many means of expression to accomplish this. The beauty of art is that we all see the world differently and each angle of vision is unique and important.