Wolfson’s Work — Catalogue Essay

 by Meir Appelfeld, 2005

Jordan Wolfson paints the intimate surroundings in which he lives, the interior of his home. In these familiar surroundings the chairs and sofas are revealed each time in a new light; protagonists in a new play, lit by the elusive daylight. It is an enduring love story, in which, through the passing of time, the connection only deepens — the domestic objects become a mirror of internal sounds and whispers and at the same time remain a living backdrop in which the artist acts.

The drawings that precede some of the paintings stand in their own right, but at the same time they reveal the way in which Wolfson internalizes the motif before he moves to painting. The drawings reveal the geometric scaffoldings on which the painting is built, and a desire to seize this structure that comes at the expense of the need for mimesis. This tension between the description of the abstract geometric structural form on the one side, and the giving of weight and volume to the objects in the room on the other, is a central subject in his painting. The synthesis between these two opposite poles in Wolfson’s paintings could be compared to a synthesis between two artists that are distant in time – Corot and Giacometti. The former found the perfect translation of the sensation of color and the latter would forgo color in order to grasp the structure of space which encloses the heroes of his paintings.

In the drawings of Giacometti there is a contrast between the circular line that seeks to hold the objects and the vertical line that describes the structure of the space that surrounds and envelopes the figures or objects. In the drawings of Wolfson, on the other hand, there is a priority given to the line which does not enclose the form – this is already anticipating color. In both Giacometti’s drawings and in Wolfson’s work the erasure is a tool that is no less important than the charcoal or graphite. The editing in Wolfson’s drawings, the changes, are a central part of the process; the traces are not hidden, and these palimpsests construct a primordial mist that hints and gives volume to the forms that are revealed between the lines.

These deft marks that bear witness to the movement of the hand reveal a few things: the first is the ongoing feel of the hand holding the charcoal, which hints at a hidden connection between the sense of sight and the sense of touch. The second is the rhythmical movement of the hand over the paper, a complex rhythm in the case of Wolfson that is constructed of points or dashes that are like stakes in the drawing, and between the points are lines, each carrying a different rhythm. The points reveal a lingering as opposed to the quick line. The point marks and evaluates distances as opposed to the line that seeks to delineate the division of the paper. This complex pictorial weave unravels the geometric structure, the composition of the work, in which the mimetic element is a by-product. Giacometti, the sculptor, seeks to unravel the structure of the skull hidden by the face or the ancient mask hidden within the face, and this springs from a sculptural desire to envelope and study the internal structure of the model. In contradistinction, Wolfson the painter is more interested in dealing with the picture plane as a wholeness. His lines hint of the existence of something hidden, which exists between those elements that help define the space of the picture. Wolfson’s lines tend to be less volumetric than those of Giacometti and delineate the picture plane as a means to feel into and sense the internal structure of space.

Another painter with which Wolfson has a fruitful dialogue is Corot. His spirit hovers above and within the paintings of Wolfson, more than the Impressionists that succeed him. It is fitting that we acknowledge the project of the Impressionists in that they were the first to relocate the process of painting outside of the boundaries of the studio; they came to painting directly from the motif without the mediation of drawing. The project of Corot was more complex and includes his quick drawings and small paintings done directly from the motif as well as the larger studio paintings that were done from the drawings and small painting sketches. In this connection we should note that Wolfson is a painter of landscape in the same measure as he is a painter of interiors and he brings the understanding and approach of landscape painting to the interiors, that is, in essence, determining the general before the particular. His paintings are made directly from the motif. Similar to Corot, the translation of the sensation of light is anchored in the placement of precise tonal relationships. In the mixing of tones blue plays a crucial role as a secret agent of daylight. But above all, like Corot, Wolfson succeeds in bringing an immediacy to the translation of the experience of light; an immediacy that is connected to the sensual and direct way in which the paint is applied.

The innovation of Wolfson lies within a new synthesis in his paintings: in the joining of the inner gesture of the brush to the colored structure of the mark. In the joining of the hidden geometric structure (that the drawings testify to) to the organic structure of the paint surface that veils it. In the joining of the sense of volume to the abstract world of line that delineates the structure. In the joining of a sense of weight and stasis to an ongoing movement that the picture plane bears witness to. In other words, a joining between the desire to hold again the whole and the knowledge that we can hold it no longer.

 

Meir Appelfeld is a painter living in Jerusalem. His forthcoming book explores the relationship between drawing and painting in the work of Poussin. His studio work is presented in the recent release A Table For One: Under the Light of Jerusalem.