Water brings out in us the desire to transcend ourselves,
to take on another nature, to push aside the laws that bind
us, to court a beautiful danger. . . . Entering the water, we
leave time behind, we defeat the world . . . having briefly
escaped our mortal destiny. . .
A world of silent gestures is to be found in the chance moves and
shifts of swimming figures, heightened by the distorting ripples
of the water and the rhythmic patterns of light. Lorraine Shemesh
explores this world and the tension between order and chaos, between
forms fully realized and forms dissolved, and between the edge of
the picture plane and the action framed within, in her new series
The figures appear as if in an intricate dance, mysteriously
drifting. The configurations, made by the figures as they interact,
have a dream-like quality. Indeed, Shemesh works at the divide between
what is known and what can only be dreamt.
The enormous size of the canvases, the life-like scale of the figures,
the intense color, and ravishing texture, ensure that the viewer
experiences these paintings with a visceral charge more usually
associated with the cinema. Yet, underpinning all the pictures is
the solidity of the artists accomplished draughtsmanship and
Spontaneity also comes into play during the actual painting process.
While pursuing her figurative interests, Shemesh has allowed herself
to be more and more seduced by the viscosity of oil paint itself.
A great variety of paint densities, from transparent to heavily
opaque, are played off each other creating vast energy and depth
and a fascinating trade between the forces of abstraction and representation.
Shemeshs work may be anchored firmly in masterful draughtsmanship,
but the paint gives it wings. At moments the artist will use passages
of extremely loose brushwork, splashes and drips, to produce a juicy
tactile bonus, without disrupting the pictorial veracity with which
she paints her figures. Although the natural liquidity of her subjects
lends a certain latitude to her endeavor, it still does not explain
how Shemesh makes such textural disparities cohere so seamlessly.
Simultaneously, there are other subtle pleasures
to be found in the more classical aspects of Shemeshs work.
An example may be found in LINK
in which the female figures knee breaks the surface of the
water and is painted as starkly real and solid while the remainder
of the leg, submerged beneath the water, dissolves into striations
of light and shadow. Shemesh also balances with exacting precision,
the pressure of the figures against the edge of the picture. Gripping
each others ankles, they form a dynamic circle, their chests
thrust against the edge of the canvas in a motif as simultaneously
sleek as the brushstroke of a Zen ink painter.
Shemesh works important elements of the composition
right up to and off the edge of the canvas, while anchoring the
design in the center through more linear configurations. What makes
Shemeshs work unique, is that she employs such radical compositional
strategies in a realist context, using figures to explore some of
the geometric and amorphic possibilities indigenous to the circle,
a common element in many of the paintings. Circles are formed by
the connected limbs of the figures in paintings such as LINK,
LOOP, and LASSO
or by inflatable tubes through which various body parts emerge,
as in RING. Shemesh
can also use a dramatic line to great effect in works like ELLIPSE,
where a figure plummets upside down against a luminous expanse that
appears more stratospheric than liquid. In CRAWL,
the figure enters the picture spectacularly from outside the rectangle
of the canvas and creates a circular configuration of water as it
swirls around its outstretched arm.
All of Shemeshs compositions are further enlivened by her
use of anatomical foreshortening and the natural magnification that
occurs with the changing undulation of water. Such elements allow
the artist to create a feeling of movement and to deconstruct the
figure in ways that hint poignantly at the impermanence of the body
and the fleeting nature of physical beauty. The allusions to mortality,
sexuality, and the complex choreography of human relationships in
the paintings of Lorraine Shemesh lend them a sense of intelligence
and poetry that reinforces their sheer visual power.
Dobyns, Stephen, McCormack, Ed, "Water-Works."
Allan Stone Gallery Catalogue. (April 29, 2000): illus., 2-3.