13 Dec 2010

The paintings of Barbara Schroeder

I always want to get in really close to the paintings of Barbara Schroeder. They are sometimes quite big, which makes it easy, but they are often also quite small, at least in her current work, and in multiple form, which confirms part of what I feel about them. But, in every case, they seem to get under the skins of not only the observer, but also of the subject matter, scratching into the quintessential core of whatever substances are involved, whether these be the ingredients of a landscape, a fruit, a vegetable, or even something not so easy to identify or isolate, like copper.

Colours, textures and line become almost unseparable in much of her work, drawing you in to the feel of the suject as matter, as a living and inconstant thing that is more felt than analysed. Schroeder's observations go well beyond the visual sense, apparently using touch, maybe smell, and something like a sixth sense which I can only decribe as the aura of matter, to apprehend her subject. The fact that much of her work uses themes that she works and reworks, turning around the material as in a vortex of sensations, shows to me that she knows that she can never really capture the essence of a substance, perhaps beacause there is no such thing as a quitessential vision of any object, only fleeting glimpses that can or cannot be captured by any one person, at any single moment.

Choux (cabbages)

As light, angle and memory flicker and fade, changing one's perception of the world, so the enterprise of fixing this in the form of a drawing or painting is of course illusory, but so totally necessary to an artist. To enable this vain attempt, the painter must step outside the subject while digging deeply into its intimacy. It is a balancing act of some daring that can only succeed, albeit partially, by persistence. Hence the interest of series of works on the same subject matter, as the work of many painters, Monet and Picasso for instance, have shown.

Of course the appreciation of any work of art (or wine, for that matter) is ultimately down to personal and necessarily subjective criteria. The only objective element being some form of comparison with other objects of the same category, whatever that category be made of (style, price, availability etc...). The fact that I own a painting by Barbara Schroeder  naturally makes me entirely unobjective, in theory at least, as I could perhaps dislike the painting and have bought it simply because I considered it to be a "good investment" (which is far from the case and is totally irrelevant to my way of thinking, but nobody knows that for sure). So what is it that makes one like a painting enough to make one buy one, even if the sum represents an unreasonable percentage of one's annual income?

Mystery! (and this is not the painting that I own by the way)

Another thing that should be said is that photographs of paintings rarely do them justice. At least two essential things are missing: scale and texture, not to mention colours than can be some way off reality. You have to see a painting in real life to be able to really appreciate it, even more so than a film in a cinema as compared with its reproduction on tv. And living with a painting is a different experience to just seeing it for a few minutes in a gallery or in the artist's studio. Time, as much one's own changing moods and the moments of the day, are factors not to be underestimated. Good painting stands the test of time.

Barbara Schroeder

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