Art in America
no. 12, December 2001
”Harriet Shorr at Cheryl Pelavin”, New York, NY
Always a still-life and landscape painter of thought and skill, Harriet Shorr in her latest outing has gone to new extremes. The skill is radically apparent throughout, in the dexterity and pluck with which she graces a large canvas. The oil-on-paper Apple Blossoms, roughly 3 feet square, is based on the scenery near her summer home in Vermont. The sheer density of the painterly blossoms is remarkable. In Late Irises, the flowers alternately droop in the heat of day, and draw themselves up. Light is purely a matter of pigment, and color is purely a matter of light.
Shorr today, more than ever before, is stressing artificiality over realism, the virtual over the veristic, intellection over intuition. In the aptly named Artifice, we see statuary, column and cloud-studded sky reflected in a pond below a grassy bank with flowers, fruit and fabrics. But, mind-bendingly, what's reflected is not seen, and what's seen is not reflected. Then you realize that the entire set-up has been compiled in the artist's studio without reference to much more than Shorr's unerring imagination.
Incoming Tide dares to recreate a shoreline so wadeable that it's wacky to think it's really nothing more than sand and darkening waters in a glass pan. Three "At The Beach" paintings are among the most obscure since Redon's own indoor versions, with their black waters and peanut-colored sands yielding the kind of dank European seascape seldom seen on American beaches.
Shorr, obviously, has given the metaphysics of still-life painting a great deal of thought; her works operate at the point where artifice has become reality and reality is almost entirely subjugated to style. As with theater, disbelief must be suspended. That done, one can drink in the unnatural splendors of time, place and subject, never quite sure where one is, only knowing that one is singularly disarmed.
And when we see this kind of esthetic reality-testing explode-as it virtually does, all over, in Pond in June-into pure abstraction, we aren't surprised. Shorr went to graduate school at Yale, and besides that her work arises, just as much out of Action Painting as it does out of painterly realism. The stage- to use that handy metaphor once more-is set differently, but the play is still the thing- the play of light, shadow, tone, color, image and idea.
Art on Paper
Harriet Shorr, Winter/Handstand (2000) (fig. 7), an oil monotype. It measures 31-1/2 x 44 in. and was printed on Rives BFK paper by Kathryn Hagy, under the supervision of Cheryl Pelavin, at Cheryl Pelavin Fine Art in New York.
Harriet Shorr has recently completed several very interesting monotypes at Cheryl Pelavin's workshop, including a monumental triptych (At The Beach) and this large "winter" scene in which flowers, fruit and a statuette are disposed over a white ground. Perhaps we have arrived at a fortunate era when the expressive properties of painting, regardless of their formal baggage, are regarded above all else-when, that is to say, whether a work is abstract or representational, or any degree in between, is less important or interesting than its absolute specificity. In such a time, an artist like Shorr can shine, for what are these scatterings of this and that other than fascinating choices made for the sake of the success of the work? "Winter" here is no doubt the white, but also the fruit-a pomegranate, symbol of Persephone and the season of dormancy and death. A little cupid statuette upended completes the mythological references-but such allusions are secondary, really. Each object-the statuette, flower petals etc.-are so deliciously painted on the matrix, and each casts a shadow that gives the object a sensation of being grounded and adrift all at once. For an artist who enjoys reflection and the world of topsy-turvy, monotype is a pertinent medium, at which she clearly excels. Price $,5000. Published by Cheryl Pelavin Fine Art, New York.