The Art of Digging It
As you enter the Fredric Snitzer Gallery and begin looking at the pieces counterclockwise from the door, colors seem to drift past, from moss green to sanded-wood, from red to black. The abstract paintings of Lynne Golob Gelfman have an unusual expressive quality. Dabs of pigment recede within the confines of irregular latticework and resemble a kind of cryptic writing. They are marks with which Gelfman plays tricks on our vision: The designs move sinuously behind successive layers of paint and they keep a certain rhythm, where the marks function as ciphers. Let your mind go and you can see electric circuitry, ruins from an airplane crash in the desert, Arabic encryptions behind a mud cover, calligraphic ornaments.
I had fun with these pieces. Without seeing the titles, I recognized moss 1 or moss 4. There are water, soil, spores, germination. Mosses are commonly found in moist, shady locations and are best known for carpeting woodland and forest floors. These pieces have it: In moss 5 I could almost smell the humidity. I saw tiny swabs of darker green, oozing from a semitransparent sheet of diluted green blotches. But not all the paintings are green; in fact not all mosses are green. Irish moss is red, and red chant is a majestic kind of painting. It shows veiled (sort of) "8"-shape ornaments behind washes of red. When you follow this sort of pulse, the patterns on the painting's surface begin to move.
Then there's Burqa, which along with red chant, is one of the two biggest pieces in the exhibition. Burqa, however, is less about earthy material and more about gravity. Things seem to slowly move from top to bottom. Heavy black impasto dramatically falls and then retracts into whitish rows near the bottom of the piece, all under a layer of dark gray on the painting's surface. Gelfman's method is most palpable here; you can almost see her doing it.
"Lynne's work is about the process," says Fred Snitzer, whose gallery is showing 24 of Gelfman's recent paintings. "You see her struggling with the work. She knows when it happens."
The nine panels from the Dougga Series in the show are another example of the functioning behind the form. I could see her trances: She smudges, sands, paints, and drips, then sands again, until the piece happens, though perhaps not in that order. The result is a kind of archaeological exposition of paint layers, where the deepest and most superficial ones are simultaneously exposed. These particular paintings invite linguistic musings: Dougga is akin to the English doggo (in hiding), and dug (past tense of dig), and all deal with the business of unearthing, breaking up, bringing to light. Gelfman thus digs images for us, some clearly visible, some almost effaced into the texture of the materials.
Gelfman has had time to grow into her process. A well-known local artist, with degrees from Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University, she has had an impressive number of selected and one-person exhibits in Miami and elsewhere (her work is part of permanent collections at the Smithsonian and the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach). Snitzer, who represents Gelfman in Miami where she resides, has shown her work several times.
It's pleasant to see paintings in an age dominated by installation art. It's also hard to talk about the Miami art scene in the past decade without addressing Snitzer's contribution. He is a veteran promoter of local talent, and Gelfman's show is proof of that. Snitzer's new gallery is on the edge of Coral Gables, far from the idle chat of the once-a-month Friday gallery walks. (Snitzer's old gallery on Ponce de Leon shrank from a sizable "storefront" -- as he puts it -- to a little door and window near an upscale Gables dry cleaner.) Next to the noise and sights of car garages, barbed-wired junkyards, and not far from a strip joint, Snitzer now believes he's in better company. Agreed. Mixing art and the gutter is a laudable, though risky, practice that traces to cave art. The idea is to stay in business, but keep it real. Gelfman's digs hang on Snitzer's side of the tracks through October 30.
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