To die, to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
It’s only from observing someone else’s death that we can get any clues about what dreams may come. All we have to go on is our experience as a witness to another’s death -- its approach, occurrence and aftermath. Our response to this sequence of events is shaped by how well we know the deceased and how well we know ourselves. There is a special pull and fascination with having proximity to another’s death. What we see “gives us pause.” Eventually, we know, it will be our turn.
Nearly a decade ago painter Judy Glantzman kept her father company as his health deteriorated. She briefly tried sketching him, she told me recently, but was not comfortable representing her father’s decline directly. Glantzman took the impulse of recording her experience of his death back to her studio. She wrote of bringing to her painting a heightened sense of the provisional nature of our “physical selves.” The resulting work was not shown widely at the time it was painted. It is, however, the basis for Glantzman’s show at Betty Cuningham Gallery this summer, “The White Paintings 1999 -2001.”
The focus of the show is five large, mostly white oil paintings. In each work there is a single, ambiguous presence drawn in contours of paint using minimal color – mostly reds and muted blues. Centrally placed, the lone figure is female and has a youthful, fidgety appearance. The effect is spare, as opposed to the colorful, populated feel to much of Glantzman’s prior and subsequent works.
The figures are incomplete and misshapen, missing arms, a torso, or legs. Rendered quickly in narrow painted lines, several wear a veil or headpiece and some are clothed in a full gathered skirt. The most prominent element in each painting is the subject’s doll-like face. The stylized facial features have similar proportions as they face the viewer. They could all be drawn from a classicized conception of the human face rather than from a specific individual.
Overall, the works have an interrupted and erased feel as if the artist made multiple, incomplete attempts at rendering her subject. What is left of the figure for us to see has been partially covered or reworked. However, the unfinished quality of the rendering does not result in an unfinished work. The striving and repeated attempts to understand her idealized subject suggest that which we can never really know.
Above image courtesy of the artist and Betty Cuningham Gallery:
by Judy Glantzman "Angel," 2000, Oil on Canvas, 90" x 80"