A bundle of nerves and anticipation, a young, fresh-faced New Yorker steps off of a plane onto a ground ripe with rich cultural heritage. It’s 1961, and the student has arrived in Bogotá, Colombia, for the first time. In a time before cell phones, the girl’s parents wring their hands in fear on the other side of the hemisphere as their daughter ventures off, ready to forge her own destiny.
Fast-forward ten years, and Lynne Golob Gelfman lands back on the soil of the Central American country she fell in love with all those years ago. She's a little older and wiser and brings a fond familiarity for the land before her. She's also brought her husband. The two try their hand at a new industrial concept of the era: the flower trade.
“We bought a potato farm outside of Bogotá to grow flowers, and Miami was the port of entry for the flowers for our farm,” says the businesswoman-turned-painter. That's how, more than a decade after first setting foot in Colombia, Gelfman ended up in Miami.
Now 74, she’s been living here for nearly half a century. With 40 solo shows under her belt, many international and national exhibitions, and pieces on permanent display in museums across the nation, she is celebrated in the abstract art scene. When Gelfman arrived in Miami in 1972; however, the born-and-bred New Yorker didn’t expect to stay long.
“I never thought I’d stay here for more than two years,” the artist confides, adding that she and her husband also never envisioned their flower business would be a success. But when their brand bloomed, the South Florida city became a permanent home. Gelfman says it changed her life.
She had been a painter in New York and continued to paint in her typical style in Miami, but, she says, "it felt very disjointed. One day I had this fortuitous experience of looking at the back of it. It had this sense, an architectural, faded-out image of a grid, where the light sort of dissolved a lot of the structure.”
The artist restretched the painting, so the back became the front. What resulted was the kindling of a bleached-out light technique, created by the more intense rays of sunlight in South Florida, that would become her modus operandi. Invigorated by this method, she spent time investigating how to cultivate alternative forms from a steady network of lines representing a series of rectangles. Filigree, chain-link, and basket-weave markings all appear in the painter’s upcoming exhibit, opening September 15 at Pérez Art Museum Miami.
Looking closely at the 25 pieces on view in "Grids: A Selection of Paintings by Lynne Golob Gelfman," you’ll find they share a theme. The artist explains that although one might appear different from the next, there’s a universal underlying reference to the grid. “It is reflecting our society, our environment,” Gelfman elaborates, “seeing the grid as disruptive and seeing it as in a state of collapse.”
The unraveling of the grids in her work parallels the political and social unraveling Gelfman sees in the news. The artist points out the downfall of ethical structure and sea levels rising as two obvious overtones one could draw from her paintings. Sociopolitical implications aside, there’s even more to how the audience should consume the works.
Today's world moves fast, but Gelfman hopes everyone who sees her exhibition experiences it in the spirit of looking at something slowly. “I hope for some sort of spiritual feeling, from the spiritual thing relating to your sense of place.” It could be “the water, the sky, the land,” she adds.
Her interest in blending art and the environment can be credited to the diverse places she’s lived. Growing up in the City that Never Sleeps, she recounts how she used to paint New York’s rooftops with laundry hanging from them, the clothing invading the shapes of the roofs. She channels this childhood passion for disrupting angles into her modern-day focus on toying with order.
“I sort of like to see myself as this trickster, because the paintings, the grids, are a game.” Challenging it, Gelfman says, is something she’s always been interested in professionally. “You set up the rules of the game, you follow them, and then you can deviate from that. I see these grids that have this playful element of chance.”
She explored her mischievous side in a different way during her time in Colombia. There, an interest in textiles and baskets was set aflame. “I was insanely collecting Colombian baskets from the Amazon and local baskets used for everyday objects, like for eggs and brooms.” She admits to even rounding up fish traps in her hunt for inspiration.
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Relocating to Miami sparked an aesthetic with roots in risk. Many decades of creating in the Magic City have led the painter to experiment with the architecture of light, evolving the grid for which she’s known and gambling even further with an “atmospheric dissolution” of the framework on which her work is based.
From the rooftops of New York to the flower farms of Colombia to the urban sunshine of Miami, "Grids: A Selection of Paintings by Lynne Golob Gelfman" displays paintings spanning a diligent, illustrious career. It promises a hypnotic glimpse into the mind of a fearless woman who continues to cherish her connection between work and environment.
“Over the years," she says, "I’ve been slowly finding a closer relationship between my paintings and the world.”
"Grids: A Selection of Paintings by Lynne Golob Gelfman." Saturday, September 15, through April 21, 2019, at Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-375-3000; pamm.org. General admission is $16 for adults and free for museum members; discounts are available for students, seniors, and youth aged 7 to 18; children under 6, Florida K-12 administrators, and active U.S. military get in free.