Treiman's art -- engagingly enigmatic

There are few pleasures in art comparable to viewing a master painter's performance, especially if it appears effortless and we are moved or enchanted without quite knowing why. Unfortunately, even the best of art seasons provides very few such experiences. This season has been no exception, although we have been a bit more fortunate than usual in having had the extraordinary Alberto Giacometti show at the Sidney Janis Gallery and several exhibitions by somewhat younger artists of genuine promise and achievement.

Now, as if to round off the season very nicely, we are fortunate to have a number of Joyce Treiman's paintings and drawings on view at the Schmidt Bingham Gallery under the overall title ``Jokers and Me.''

These moving and occasionally brilliant works prove that masterful, painterly performances still occur, and that the grand and noble tradition of classical draftsmanship is far from dead.

Joyce Treiman was born in 1922, in Evanston, Ill. She went to school in the Midwest; won her first art award at 18; held her first professional exhibition in Chicago when she was 20; began showing her work in major museums and garnering prestigious prizes when she was 28; and had established a solid reputation for herself in and around Chicago by the time she was 30.

She has remained a top-notch professional ever since, with more one-woman shows, inclusions in group exhibitions, museum purchases, and awards to her name than any one person has a right to have. And throughout, she has continued to grow as a painter/draftsman, maintained her creative integrity, and produced some of the most provocative and beautiful paintings and drawings of the past two or three decades.

She is, in short, one of the finest American painters of her generation and one of the best draftsmen.

More specifically, Treiman is a representational artist who has looked particularly long and hard at the paintings of Rembrandt, Rubens, and Goya -- as well as those of Manet, Bonnard, and Lautrec -- but without committing herself to those artists' styles or themes.

She is an Expressionist with richly Romantic overtones. For her, the canvas is a stage upon which exultantly life-illuminating or disturbingly enigmatic allegories and profoundly paradoxical comments on the human condition are played out on a monumental scale, with lusty brushwork and vibrant, full-bodied hues.

She is also capable -- as a few of her works in this exhibition prove -- of having fun with her art, of producing delightfully idiosyncratic images of impish good humor that often include sly, art-historical references and charmingly self-mocking self-portraits.

In these, she frequently portrays herself as the entrapped protagonist or the bemused, critical observer, wearing anything from ordinary street clothes to extravagant theatrical costumes or a clown's makeup.

And yet, if she is anything, she is a serious and totally dedicated artist. Art, in fact, is such a meaningful and wholehearted activity for her that she must include almost every nuance and aspect of her life in her work, no matter how ridiculous, tragic, or trivial it might be.

Impressive studies of important historical figures and symbolic confrontations with death coexist in her pictures with puppy dogs, mythological heroes and beasts, sun-drenched landscapes, and explosions of pure color. And very little happens in her emotional life that doesn't shortly find itself translated into line, paint, and color, and projected onto canvas or paper.

One knows the moment one sees them that her latest paintings are profoundly personal.

Although sumptuously painted and engagingly enigmatic, they are about the brevity and preciousness of human existence, the importance of relationships, love, survival and hope, and the joys and pleasures of making art.

These pictures are, in many ways, among her very best works. They are masterful painterly performances on a level seldom encountered today, and remarkable demonstrations of what can be achieved if one keeps one's talent and integrity intact. As such, they -- and the drawings exhibited along with them -- deserve our attention.

At the Schmidt Bingham Gallery, 41 West 57th Street, through May 24.

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