Published on December 13th, 2012 | by Elizabeth Coleman2
Review: “b+w” Exhibit by Amy Kaufman
In a few words...
Summary: Amy Kaufman's "b+w" takes your breath away with bold and beautiful depictions of nature and its forms.
Every now and then, you walk into an art exhibit that physically stops you in your tracks and makes that little voice in your head say, “Holy shit.” This was my reaction upon viewing Amy Kaufman’s latest exhibit, b+w, on display at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. The exhibit is a series of charcoal drawings — some so huge they span entire walls — which explore the process of distilling the forms and shapes of nature down to the most basic elements.
After recovering from my intense initial reaction to Kaufman’s work, the word that immediately jumped into my mind was “alembic.” According to my Merriam-Webster pocket dictionary, alembic (n.) is defined as “something that refines and transmutes as if by distillation.” And indeed, Kaufman’s charcoal images seem to be filtered through the alembic of Kaufman’s mind. These images are not just abstract lines or patterns hastily drawn; these images are scenes from nature that have been reduced to their most basic elements — trees, flowers, landscapes and biological forms — yet that still give the viewer a sense of form and beauty in the most simple context.
To say that Kaufman’s work is visually striking is an understatement. Her work literally breathes and pulses on the walls from the optical illusions created from the monochrome black and white. While traditional optical illusions can be jarring due to their crisp lines and rigid adherence to form, Kaufman’s work reflects the unpredictable qualities of charcoal; her pieces have a softening at the edges — grey smudges and imperfections — that draw viewers in and give them a chance to relax.
Wallflower (2009), is Kaufman’s most impressive piece. Consisting of three panels, Wallflower spans an entire wall at about 10 feet by 10 feet. It resembles a giant sunflower head, the Fibonacci-arranged spiral seemingly undulating and waving from various viewpoints, giving the piece unanticipated depth and dimension. The longer I stood and stared, the more I became drawn in, my slightest movements playing off of the piece’s polar tension of black and white, bringing it to life.
Also impressive is Seabox (2012), Kaufman’s first “surround” piece, which rings the wall of a smaller gallery room in the museum. Evocative of the ocean, the fifty-foot drawing consists of a blue background with black and greytone horizontal stripes, which seem to wave slightly like water. In fact, my balance was thrown off slightly as I entered the room. I found myself swaying while examining the piece, absorbing Kaufman’s art so much that I became part of the piece through my own movements.
Kaufman’s composition evokes a number of philosophical questions: What is art if not a way to examine life? Air Sac 1-4 (2000) appears to be a tangle of knots, raising questions about what lies at the nexus of art and nature. Several of Kaufman’s pieces hone in on the source of an object found in nature by placing the focal point in the center of the canvas, such as Seedcake (2007), which resembled a dandelion puff, or Compass (2004), a white circle around which black spokes emanate like a sunburst.
Kaufman’s dynamic use of minimalism simultaneously reduces the composition to its necessary elements and evokes new layers, philosophical thought and depth through optical illusions. I highly suggest a visit.
“b+w” by Amy Kaufman runs through February 9, 2013 at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. For more information visit www.sjica.org.