A Self-Taught Artist Expressing Herself
`I AM self-taught, but I am not a primitive," Sylvia Alberts declares with soft-voiced firmness. This was, of course, apparent when I first saw her work. She paints in a variety of styles, all of which have an engaging individuality and show an artist who is in control of both her canvas and her technique.
One group of paintings can be considered landscapes, although they feature houses. In "House and Cloud," Alberts concentrates on the crisp geometry of the roof against a soft swirl of clouds. The house is rendered meticulously, almost in a precisionist manner, yet there is no indication of the land on which the house sits or of its inhabitants. But the work does not suggest a sense of alienation the way a solitary Edward Hopper house silhouetted against the sky might. While Alberts admits to feeling admi ration for Hopper, the structure on this canvas is her own. The windows are painted with many subtle tints that pick up the colors of the sky. A warm serenity informs the scene.
I asked Alberts why only the upper part of the house appeared in this painting, and she replied that this is the way she sees buildings. This particular composition, with its interesting double gable and ell construction, derived from a postage stamp-sized photo on the cover of a book which she spotted while traveling. Hoping to have a better look, she tracked down the book and purchased it. But that tiny glimpse on the cover was all there was of the house; it never appeared in the text. Undeterred and p ersistent, it became in her canvas a very convincing (and likeable) dwelling.
Originally, when Albert's husband presented her with a box of casein paints for a birthday, she "couldn't think of what to do with them. Then I started using old portraits and photographs of cityscapes, and it became easier." She also produced three precise copies of paintings of boats by the 19th-century marine painter James Bard, whose work she saw at the New York Historical Society.
Alberts still likes to use photographs, but much of her work is painted directly from everyday objects. "Yellow Table II" is part of a still-life series. An imaginative group of objects rest casually on the tipped-up surface of a bright yellow short-legged table. A six-inch Mexican doll presides over tomatoes, lemons, garlics, eggplant, some fruit in a blue ceramic bowl, and a few small zucchini. The colors and shapes of the objects make an interesting compositional play, especially with the low contrast
between the lemons and the garlics against the yellow table. The slight vertical of the doll emphasizes the verticals of the legs.
I asked Alberts why the table more or less floated (although the effect is in no way unstable or surreal) against the whitish background. She answered, "I got down the table and the objects and it all seemed complete." She paused a moment and then added, "I think the background is just the gessoed canvas."
Gesso is the preferred undercoat to oil paint and is not usually left unpainted. However, it is said that when an artist has expressed himself, the work is finished. Alberts, with her unselfconscious approach, her attention to detail, her balancing of compositional elements, has indeed expressed herself.