Essay by Lulan Yu for Reflections Exhibition Catalog, Page Bond Gallery

The still lifes and studio interiors that Peri Schwartz created for “Reflections” are not simple, static arrangements of inanimate objects. Rather, they are thoughtful works in which all compositional elements have been actively analyzed for their formal relationships; this includes color and natural and reflected light.  These deliberations are part of a process in which the artist confronts the challenges involved in creating and exploiting pictorial space.  To understand these problems, she also engages in a discourse with the great artists of the western tradition of art, examining and replicating works by such artists as Rembrandt, Velazquez and Degas.  Often she even employs a grid technique, not only to copy their paintings, but also to obtain correct proportions and balanced compositions of her own.  In this way, she brings into play many of the traditional techniques used by artists to describe objects and locate them in the illusionistic space of the picture plane. Yet, the results of her process of breaking down, analyzing, and altering space, form, and light creates a tension between realistic image and abstract form that is completely modern.

Working with different media is an important part of the process Schwartz uses to develop her works. Representing similar subjects and formal arrangements in a variety of media challenges her to rethink and revise her compositions. The initial works done in her “Studio Interiors” were created using charcoal; this allowed her to easily rework their compositions. Schwartz then alternated between creating paintings, drawings, and monotypes of the same subject; this method of moving back and forth between different media further facilitates the process she uses to work out formal arrangements.

In the studio paintings, it is apparent that the compositions were done using accurate, linear perspective. However, Schwartz has flattened and compressed space by blurring edges and ground lines.  Her treatment of light and color further complicates any reading of the pictorial space. For instance, light reflected off the polished surface of a table makes it difficult to distinguish exactly where objects are located within the room. This reflective surface also creates a sense of depth, something that offers a stark contrast to those objects depicted with flat planes of color and single brushstrokes.  This is because those objects resist receding into space and, instead, appear to hover on the surface of the canvas. Any sense of purely illusionistic space that can be comfortably read by the eye is thus broken-up and called into question by the painterly texture and sketch-like quality of the brushwork.

In her studio monotypes, Schwartz continues to undertake the depiction of pictorial space.  Done in black and white, these prints present a different view of the subject and have a more photographic quality in the way they seem to capture reality.  Closer observation, however, reveals that this realism has been deliberately distorted by the artist.  Passages within the works become difficult to interpret: a counter top appears to be the same value as the floor; a table intersects with the wall. Moreover, Schwartz’s decision to include the gridlines from her studies in her final version of the works further creates an uncertain reading of the pictorial space.

Schwartz also addresses pictorial challenges in her “Bottle and Jars” series. In the carefully composed but compressed space of these works, attention is drawn to how the bottles and jars fill the picture plane and how they relate to each other and the space around them. In the way this is done, it is clear color and shape are as much the subject of these works as are the bottles and jars themselves.  The effect is that these works must be understood as a modern synthesis of representation and abstraction.

Though making works of art is a thoughtful and deliberate process for Peri Schwartz, it also is one that involves much doing and re-doing.  After she has arranged objects for a still life or interior, she often rearranges them while she is working in order to resolve problems and achieve her desired outcome. She also is carefully attuned to the effects of light and color that occur from the arrangements of elements in her works; she experiments by moving bottles and jars to different positions, creating subtle changes in the value and color of the liquids they contain.  Although Schwartz seems to enjoy the unpredictable nature of creating works of art in this way, she is very sure and deliberate in her intentions.  As a result, these seemingly quiet, contained still life and interior pieces have a dynamic, intriguing quality that invites the viewer to thoughtful contemplation.