I first discovered about Janice Nowinski on Fb, the place she posted photographs of her work. As I used to be a latecomer to FB, I had no concept how lengthy she had been doing this, however it was quickly clear to me that she was a part of a neighborhood that included artists I had reviewed. It additionally appeared to me that FB was Nowinski’s go-to outlet, as she didn’t present her work in New York and solely sometimes exterior the town. The causes have been obvious: there’s something non-commercial about her work, beginning with its scale, which might be as small as 7 by 5 inches. Her palette is crepuscular and wintery, not shiny. Her topics — typically nudes — are neither hip nor charming. She doesn’t paint portraits of people however of nameless figures and archetypes. From her posts I discovered that her touchstones embrace Chardin, Manet, Cézanne, Soutine, and David Park.
Janice Nowinski: Recent Paintings, at Thomas Erben Gallery (September 9–October 23, 2021), is her debut with this gallery and her first exhibition in New York in almost a decade. From what I can inform — based mostly on seeing just a few photographs of her earlier work on-line — Nowinski (who has been out of artwork college for greater than 30 years) has come into her personal in the course of the previous decade. On this time she moved away from still-life work to pay attention solely on the determine, which enabled her work to turn into extra expressive and open. The different change that appears to have taken place is within the scale. I imagine that Nowinski started to work smaller, which could strike the viewer as counterintuitive, however to my thoughts it helped slim her focus. One factor that facilitated these modifications was portray from “personal snapshots,” fairly than from remark, as she instructed Xico Greenwald in 2012.
Of the exhibition’s 22 work, the biggest is 16 by 12 inches, and many are 7 by 5 inches. In every work the artist focuses on a number of figures in generic settings. It appears to me that Nowinski is attempting to meld collectively two seemingly incommensurable traditions — the classical, going again to Massacio’s fresco “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” (1425); and the expressionist, starting with Manet’s “Olympia” (1863) and encompassing the work of David Park, Willem de Kooning, and Leon Kossoff — with out being ironic. She desires quantity, pores and skin, and gentle to turn into palpable presences, whereas having the paint stay recognizable as paint. The questions she has posed for herself begin with these: Are you able to attract paint with out turning into mannered? Are you able to resist settling into the reassurances supplied to you by a mode?
Of all of the painters attempting to determine an area for themselves, whereas honoring de Kooning’s remark, “flesh is the reason oil paint was invented,” Nowinski has attained a singular place. By engaged on a portray that she will all the time see in its entirety, she equates her subject of focus with that of the portray’s floor. On this scale, every transfer is magnified. And but, the viewer is prone to affiliate this scale, approaching the miniature, with management and perfection, neither of which appears on Nowinski’s thoughts. Whereas different writers have identified that she will work on a portray for years, the surfaces usually are not dense or constructed up. She is sort of a poet who retains non-public all of the drafts it took to reach at one thing that appears to have spilled out of her. She is just not all in favour of proving that she labored exhausting on a portray.
Though the work are intimate in scale, the type of the figures is all the time robust sufficient to be learn from a substantial distance, partly due to the distinction between the colour of the determine and that of the environment, which vary from tonal contrasts to gentle and darkish. The topics on this present embrace the non-public and the artwork historic, from “Grandma Jean #1″ (oil on panel, 7 by 5 inches, 2021) to “Bathers after Cézanne” (oil on canvas, 11 by 14 inches, 2015).
The crepuscular gentle can convey a state of isolation, gloom, and vulnerability, even when the determine’s face is just not seen. In “Nude in Front of Mirror” (oil on canvas, 14 by 11 inches, 2021), a featureless girl of indeterminate age is bending down barely in entrance of a big mirror, and pulling on one thing grayish-white and exhausting to outline.
The body of the sq. mirror is outlined by a semi-solid orange-umber brushstroke on the left, with the opposite edges marked by much less strong brushstrokes making up the contour. Two vertical traces, every extending from one of many mirror’s sides and intersecting on the portray’s high edge, introduce the chance that the mirror can be a window. The stress between the transparency of a window and strong aircraft of mirrored glass might be learn formally and narratively.
Is the determine standing earlier than a mirror or a window? Why is she featureless, whereas her breasts have been partially outlined? It’s exhausting to stay in that second of portray when it’s simple to overthink all the pieces and really feel the necessity to put in additional data and inform the viewer extra. Is it doable to let go of a piece at that second, if you find yourself uncertain of what you’re getting at, when completed and unfinished overlap?
The dimension of the determine within the portray’s rectangle, which is nighttime blue and grey, accentuates the feelings the work conveys. The sense that the room is giant, fairly than intimate, provides to the emotions it stirs up. An inexplicable gentle blue triangular form, which extends diagonally down from the portray’s higher proper edge, elevates it into one thing contemporary. What is that this form? By introducing a component that’s not immediately readable, however is straight away plausible, Nowinski slows down our wanting, invitations us to think about the size relationships throughout the portray.
If this triangle is a curtain, isn’t the window fairly small and excessive on the wall? If the wind is blowing that arduous, why was the window left open? Is the disarray of the paint a mirrored image of the lady’s inside state? It appears to me that considered one of Nowinski’s preoccupations is to evoke the topic’s inside climate with out turning this becoming a member of of inside and outer into an anecdote or sinking into the maudlin. Is it doable to counsel on a regular basis melancholia with out turning into overtly dramatic, as in Edvard Munch?
To level out that there’s something awkward about the way in which Nowinski paints is to overlook seeing what she does with paint, which modifications. By way of this medium, she seeks to attach the inside and outer states of her topics. She additionally takes a generic topic, comparable to a girl leaning towards a railing in entrance of a panorama, and makes it unsentimental and contemporary.
Nowinski’s work might be disarming. Is she a figurative painter who is aware of rather a lot about abstraction? Are a few of her nudes on the verge of uncontrollable sobbing or am I studying into the expression, pose, and merging of physique and paint?
“Nude on a Piano” (oil on a panel, 5 by 7 inches, 2021) is unsettling as a result of, at the same time as we will see the upward thrust of the lady’s breasts and the thickness of her pubic hair, she stays distant. We are able to see her eyes, nostril, and mouth, however we can’t learn them. Mendacity, together with her fingers clasped behind her head, on the entrance of a piano, her left leg crossing over her proper, at an angle that evokes a masculine pose, Nowinski’s nude might be understood as a response to the male gaze — one that’s each direct and nuanced, which is true of the strongest work within the exhibition. They take time to see, however the pleasures they provide and the questions they elevate are substantial.
Janice Nowinski: Recent Paintings continues at Thomas Erben Gallery (526 West twenty sixth Avenue, 4th ground, Chelsea, Manhattan) by October 23.
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