Friday, September 1st, 2006

Isca Greenfield-Sanders: Pinelawn Pools

Goff & Rosenthal
537B W 23 Street
New York City

September 7 to October 14, 2006

Isca Greenfield-Sanders Red Suit Diver 2006 mixed media and oil on canvas, 63 x 63 inches, Courtesy Goff & Rosenthal
Isca Greenfield-Sanders, Red Suit Diver 2006 mixed media and oil on canvas, 63 x 63 inches, Courtesy Goff & Rosenthal

Isca Greenfield-Sanders alters found images, faded photographs from the 1960s, using digital manipulation and traditional oil painting. The resultant mixed media paintings and sketches in her “Pinelawn Pools” series depict a family lounging about a familiar suburban swimming pool. Using a technology-savvy restoration process to enliven faded imagery, she makes brightly colored and highly contrasted paintings.

In an effort to avoid sentimentality and to distance herself from the original subject matter, Greenfield-Sanders devised a working method using digital and handmade manipulation. Original slides procured from flea markets and yard sales are scanned into a computer and printed on rice paper in color at a small scale, usually eight inches square. She draws and paints with watercolors on the image. Then, after scanning again, the image is enlarged and printed in seven inch tiles, a size accommodated easily by a home desktop printer. The rice paper tiles are assembled on canvas in an overlapping grid, leaving a one inch border on all sides. She paints over the color rendering with oil paint.

A girl reclines on a float in the pool while a towel-clad figure leans over an adjacent guard rail in Swimming Pool with Ball (2006), measuring roughly five feet square. A beach ball floats between them. Emerging from the image are rich, luscious slathers of primary colors: the girl’s ultramarine swimsuit, the same hued stripes on the towel, the slices of cadmium red and yellows comprising the beach ball.

Greenfield-Sanders has a penchant for rich primary colors and thin, stained surfaces. In Red Suit Diver (2006), the simplification and abstraction of the figures recalls, as does the subject matter, Seurat’s “Bathers at Asnieres.” A diving boy wearing scarlet swim trunks and an adjacent seated figure appear flattened, like cut-outs against the thinly-stained chlorinated water and wooded backdrop. The strangely dark background resembles the recesses of a jungle and heightens the dramatic play of light and dark in the foreground. The patches of light on the pool deck flicker amid the figures.

The approximately two feet square Brighton Beach, (2006) is the only mid-size painting in the exhibition and marks a chromatic departure from the larger paintings. Although the red and blue found in the central figures offer a simple contrast of primaries, an array of warms and cools undulate at the center of the composition inside the viridian shadow of the beach umbrella. The cadmium orange umbrella spokes advance as the surrounding viridian shadow recedes. This painting displays a heightened awareness of light through color. The ochre in the sand beautifully contrasts with the purple flesh in the shadow. A wide variety of brushstrokes and a smaller format also minimize the presence of the grid, allowing the painting to stand independent of its referent image.

The artist does not try to conceal her dependence on photographic material because the final paintings contain visible traces of the underlying grid. It is curious to ponder why Greenfield-Sanders left traces of her scaling aids visible in the final version. Realist painters generally wish to leave no trace of their scaling aids. While the grid may provide Greenfield-Sanders with a point of departure and help her with scale transformations, its appearance comes at the expense of the paintings’ visual unity. The raised edges of the underlying grid compete with the painterly brushstrokes, diminishing their impact.

The grid disrupts the passages of thick and thin paint in Orange Suit Bather(2006). A cool, thick white describes the pool deck and divides the thinly painted fence, shrubbery and sky from the water. These thin glazes almost have a staining effect. Upon closer inspection, the image underneath is revealed as colored speckles and blurs of digital information. The digitally-generated underpainting provides tonal values and shading, on top of which thin glazes of brighter color may be applied. Here, overlapping edges of the individual pieces of rice paper catch light and shadow as relief and are particularly distracting.

Greenfield-Sanders’ retention of the grid as a formal device suggests her unwillingness to completely abandon the original sources, never fully detaching from the sentimentality inherent in the found object. Like a camera’s viewfinder, the grid becomes an obstruction. It stands between observer and scene, the painting and its ground. While the mixed media paintings lend monumentality to a private snapshot, as a whole they read more as painted photographs than paintings made from photographic material.