Jordan Wolfson – Interior

by Avishai Eyal, 1999

 

Interior, or intérieur in French, is the theme of the exhibition. In two languages the term describes the inside of something, the inland of a country or the depths of one’s nature, one’s character. In art this term relates to the interior of a house or a room and especially to drawings of the day-to-day life, of women at work and of familial scenes drawn since the seventeenth century in the Low Countries of Europe.

Jordan Wolfson paints the interior of the artist’s studio. This studio is located in the religious residential neighborhood Makor Baruch in Jerusalem, in an old and dilapidated apartment with windows facing north. The furniture in the room consists of a small worktable with a few objects on top, a sofa set in the corner by the window, a chair or two. It’s just another dull-nothing-special room.

The paintings are oil, monochromatic paintings using a soft scale of color mixes known from the history of European interior painting: grayish-brownish colors, a mixture of blues and earthen colors, cadmium red and yellow and cremnitz white. These are the colors of the Dutch painter Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667) or the French painter Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699-1779).

In most of the paintings there are no human figures. It seems like the permanent tenant is missing, as if he distractedly left the room in a familiar, private, sort of disorder. At the same time the presence of the seeing-and-unseen onlooker is felt, the presence of someone who scans the room and describes it, in painting after painting. The paintings are not trying to tell a story or present a dramatic scenario; the painter-onlooker observes the room from a distance and describes it without taking a stance. Only the need to describe again and again the same spot testifies to the obsessive interest he has in this seemingly dull-nothing-special room.

The artist’s point of view is usually downwards and the floor fills much of the space of the picture while the other objects are seen up to the level of the windowsill. In most paintings the corner of the room is the vanishing point of the perspective and it appears at the upper third of the format. The viewpoint is from a standing position, as if the onlooker is about to leave any minute; his head bowed and his eyes are focused on the floor. This viewpoint creates a feeling of density and weight.

Sometimes there is a figure of a nude woman in the paintings. She sits on a chair or reclines on the sofa in the far end of the painting, and is engrossed in herself. Even with the figure of the woman, the painting is still an interior with casual objects. And yet, the passive presence of the woman focuses the attention on her, especially when she is situated in the corner which is the focus of the whole composition. The woman is painted in brighter and warmer colors and it is as if she lights up the forlorn dull room with her body.

The presence of the nude woman in the room makes her the owner of the place: she does nothing and uses none of the objects in it. Unlike the women in the paintings of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), she does not work nor read, she does not pour milk nor embroider a lace. Unlike the women in the paintings of Edgar degas (1834-1917) she is not busying herself neither in beautification nor in bathing. The woman in Jordan Wolfson’s paintings looks like one of the objects in the room, a human object which is the object of observation.

Wolfson’s painting is figurative and realistic. A figurative painting is any painting whose objects can be identified even if they went through distortion, change or abstraction. A realistic painting usually describes the concrete reality; it describes “real” objects as opposed to “invented” ones and stresses themes of day-to-day life as opposed to ideal and supreme ones. The difficulty in defining Wolfson’s paintings simply as realistic arises from the similarity of his works to the style of action painting. The objects are intended to look like the real thing, but are painted with brush strokes that are dynamic, expressive and saturated with thick paint. The painting is quickly done, in a short time, and the dynamic brush strokes charge the painting’s texture with a sense of urgency, intensity and movement at the expense of the sense of deliberateness, accuracy and concreteness typical of still-life painting. Hence this is a realistic painting with affiliation to American abstract art as well as to the English figurative painting since the 60’s, known as “The London School”.

Jordan Wolfson was born in Los Angeles, California in 1960 and was a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He began his studies as a premed student while participating in studio art classes. Pretty soon he realized that he desired to major in art, but his artistic development was slow and prolonged. He dropped out of school in 1981 and worked and traveled for three years. He returned to university in 1984 and received his B.A. from UCSC in 1985. Wolfson then proceeded to attend graduate school at the prestigious Yale University School of Art in the years 1989-1991. In between he visited Israel twice and stayed for long periods of time (in 1983 and in 1987-1988) during which he felt the forming of a spiritual bond with Jerusalem, where he has lived since 1992.
The work and nature of Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) had a deep effect on Wolfson. Diebenkorn is perhaps the most well-known west coast artist who achieved national and international acclaim. He is also known for abandoning – in the middle of the 50’s, at the time when the New York School was at its peak – his successful abstract work for new figurative painting. In later years he combined representational painting with the construction of abstract space. Wolfson’s method of constructing pictorial space exhibits a connection to Diebenkorn’s work.

Thanks to his teacher Andrew Forge, Wolfson was also introduced to the work of Frank Auerbach (1931-), an important English artist who is a member of the London School. Since the beginning of the 50’s Auerbach developed a striking and personal method of painting. He paints in series – landscapes and models – and returns again and again to the same landscapes and the same models. He paints swiftly with particularly thick paint, resulting in protruding layers on the canvas. If the painting is not finished within a few hours of the same day to his satisfaction, he peels off the paint and the next day starts anew. This method produces emotionally charged paintings, laden materially and filled with the tension of the immediate touch and action.

Jordan Wolfson does not work like Auerbach; but something of Auerbach’s spirit inspires his work. Wolfson finds his work linked to a long tradition of painting and connected to the works of artists such as Alberto Giacometti, Georgio Morandi and Claude Monet. He seeks to connect painting and body, and struggles to create an intimacy, a touch and closeness between the given reality and the occurrence in paint. As a painter he is a deep believer in the power of painting, in its spirituality and its validity as an instrument of expression.

Catalogue, The Art Faculty Gallery, University of Haifa
February 4, 1999
(Translated from the Hebrew by Sigal Adler)