About the Exhibit
Beyond the Window, a gallery exhibit, was available for viewing by the public beginning February 27, 2015. Beyond the Window was an exhibition by Zeuxis artists (an association of still life painters) that explored the ways paintings use interior scenes to frame outdoor vistas.
From at least the time of ancient Pompeii, artists have used the device of a window view to contrast inner and outer worlds. The division of spaces – between worlds of direct sunlight and shadowy interior – heighten an entire set of contrasts: the intimate and the expansive; the domestic and the untamed; the controlled and the out of control. For all of these artists, the frame of the window serves as both threshold and unifier, at once containing the outdoors and providing release from the indoors.
A catalog, complete with information on each painting and an essay from artist John Goodrich, was available in the Norton Center lobby during the exhibition.
A painting is a portal. Within the space of its frame we are transported to another zone, a place—contained but unfolding—that enlarges our thoughts and senses. Outside the frame, is… well, what we escape from: the wall, the rest of the room, our generally unexceptional surroundings. We know, upon approaching the frame upon the wall, to gear up for a change. But what if there’s a portal within the portal? This, of course, happens all the time in paintings. The ancient Pompeiians painted images of fantastic arcades, and then, delighted by telescoping spaces, elaborated the views beyond. Medieval depictions of the Annunciation included images of windows for a more practical purpose; they admitted the rays that symbolically impregnated the Virgin. By contrast, the luminous landscape behind the background columns in Van Eyck’s Madonna of Chancellor Rolin (ca. 1435) seems designed only as a feast for our eyes. (Perhaps Rolin’s eyes, too, as the view likely depicts his hometown.)
Rembrandt framed people with the windows they peered from, and Manet famously posed his subjects within the framework of a balcony’s doorway; both contrasted an illuminated, public space with an indeterminate, shadowy interior. Vermeer did the opposite; his windows, which usually appear as obliquely-viewed slits, are more felt than seen—sensed principally as the source of his quiet, flooding light. And in modern times, this separation between interior and exterior light sometimes becomes the explicit subject matter of a painting. Especially for colorists, it is the aperture dividing two kinds of light: the direct sunlight of the outdoors, and a room’s interior illumination, with reflected light, cooler or warmer, bouncing through every corner. One thinks of Bonnard’s dinner-laden tabletops placed before windows, with the long shadows of light-fringed objects stretching towards us. (Why doesn’t the Guggenheim Museum hang its remarkable Dining Room on the Garden, from 1934-35, more often?) Or Matisse’s somewhat more cerebral approach in The Piano Lesson (1916), in which pressures of color and form poignantly sound the separation between inner and outer environments. In both cases one feels the impact of modernism: the drive to take the language of painting towards another kind of realism, one heightened but parallel to naturalism.
In a sense, then, Beyond the Window—the latest traveling exhibition put together by the association of still life painters calling itself Zeuxis—simply draws upon a long tradition of painting portals-within-portals. Over its twenty or so years, Zeuxis has identified itself with the proposition that still life painting, in all its guises ranging from traditional realism to extravagant interpretation, can illuminate core values of painting, even in the postmodernist era. Many of the artists in Beyond the Window extended their usual repertoire to produce what might be called the “über still life,” a work expanding this customarily intimate and domestic genre to include a distant view.
True to Zeuxis form, the results are as varied as the artists themselves. Strategies abound, with the most telling differences reflecting the artists’ individual experiences of painting: the degree of attention to surface texture and materials, the prioritizing of either color or drawing in terms of composition, the commitment to a particular point on the spectrum between strict naturalism and stylistical adventure. But the works also vary greatly simply in terms of the selecting and framing of a motif. Lois Dodd, Jane Freilicher, Rita Baragona and Temma Bell, for instance, have long incorporated window views into their still lifes, while Deborah Kirklin, Ruth Miller and Phyllis Floyd, without losing a step, seem to have effortlessly expanded their usual observations of their personal envi-ronments. The window frame itself becomes the organizing, dominating presence for Caren Canier, John Goodrich, Mark Lewis, Emil Robinson, Sandra Stone and Megan Williamson. Other works reduce the frame’s visual weight; for Susan Cohen, Elena Lehman Hilfer, Ying Li and Sydney Licht, a dividing bar or two is enough to establish the presence of the portal. In Catherine Maize’s painting, the window registers as only a pattern of light on a floor.
Matt Klos and John Lee both capture interiors in expansive detail, leaving the view beyond as a distant neth¬erworld. Richard La Presti perfectly balances inner and outer, so that we experience the intersection of two complete, luminous worlds. Other paintings take a tack closer to traditional still life painting. Carefully grouped objects in works by William D. Barnes, Christine Hartman, Tim Kennedy and Anthony Martino are transformed by the tide of light from a nearby window. In the more extravagantly stylized approaches of Robert Jessel, Stephanie Rauschenbusch and Gwen Strahle, the window becomes one more element—a hov¬ering moment—within an intensely colored tapestry. Margaret McCann and Sheldon Tapley make the craftiest use of the window; it appears, distorted, as reflections in shiny, curved surfaces.
All these paintings combine, in their own ways, two usu¬ally separate worlds: the intimate, contained spaces of a still life, and the outer, sunlit world that we bodily occupy and move through. Absorbing a group of these paintings in the flesh, we may find ourselves mirroring, in real life, the internal dynamism of each one; we stand outside, moving physically from painting to painting, entering in turn the interior spaces of each work. We take, if you will, a tour of per¬sonal journeys. Not bad for a genre as old as Pompeii.
Zeuxis is a grassroots organization formed in New York City in 1995 to explore the contemporary possibilities of still life painting. To date, Zeuxis has organized over 50 exhibitions in museums, commercial galleries and other exhibition spaces. Reviews of Zeuxis exhibitions have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer and numerous other publications. For more information visit www.zeuxis.us.
This exhibit is now closed.
Centre College Art Professor Sheldon Tapley and Grammy Nominated Organist Cameron Carpenter held a Gallery Talk on Friday, February 27,2015 at 7:00 PM in the Grand Foyer.
Tapley and Carpenter discussed Reinterpreting Traditional Art Forms in Contemporary Society. This event was free and open to the public and presented with support from The Kentucky Humanities Council.