Meaning and Purpose: Chapter 5


Studio XXXIII, 2013, Peri Schwartz (b. 1950). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery NAGA

Painters who rely on observation take deeper looks at their subjects, more typically still life, interior and landscape. Josephine Halvorson seems to examine the surface of her subjects at a microscopic level; Catherine Murphy, Susan Jane Walp, and Gillian Pederson Kraag represent intensely personal approaches to painting perceptually. Peri Schwartz brings a mathematical exactitude to the interior of her studio, using grid lines to focus her vision and to record the changes made in her compositions as she studies them.

Bridge over the Navarro, 2013, Sandra Mendelsohn Rubin (b. 1947), courtesy of the artist and LA Louver Gallery

Sandra Mendelsohn Rubin’s vision soars high above The Bridge over the Navarro, and her birds-eye view signals we are at least a century removed from the views of Corot, Courbet, and Cole. Still, in regard to her dedication to paying sustained attention, Rubin has described herself as in some ways “a creature of the past.”1 In our age of distraction, paintings that concentrate vision into purpose may offer more significance than just what meets the eye.

Such Wisdom in the agitated motions of the wind, 2015, France Jodoin (b. 1961), courtesy of the artist

The postmodernists speak of deconstructing surface reality, arguing that representations no longer represent anything–that they are a self-generating realm of images, an endless surface with no underlying reality. I am more than likely twisting their terminology to describe the work of painters such as Jenny Saville, Ann Gale, Alex Kanevsky and France Jodoin. These painters’ works can convey surface reality while presenting it fractured, falling apart. It may well be that our increasing reliance on video, and familiarity with the way it appears when its transmission is hampered, has accustomed us to understand fragmented images, to reconstruct a whole from parts in our minds with ease. Or, we may all share an underlying lack of ease or trust in things as they appear. Kanevsky rejects the question that the instability represented in his work is metaphorical: “Instability clearly exist. It’s a sign of life. A metaphor is a fanciful language construct that I don’t employ in my work. The painting language is very direct and clear, unlike spoken language, and, therefore, does not require the use of metaphor.”2 Since the variety of approaches to art itself reflects the richness of the world, we can acknowledge that other artists choose to use visual fragmentation or representations of instability as metaphor.

  1. Leah Ollman, “Art review: Sandra Mendelsohn Rubin at L.A. Louver,” latimesblogs, May 27, 2011, accessed November 30, 2015,
  2. John Seed, “Alex Kanevsky: ‘Unstable Equilibrium ‘at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, The Huffington Post, October 7, 2015, accessed November 27, 2015,