Jane Bolmeier

by Don Goddard

Hollyhocks
© Jane Bolmeier

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When I first saw Jane Bolmeier's paintings of the 1960s, it didn't occur to me that they were still lifes, mostly flowers in vases. Dumb, I guess. But later, after it did occur to me, I was impressed still more by the idea "that a picture--before being a horse, a nude, or some sort of anecdote--is essentially a flat surface covered with colors arranged in a certain order," as the French Symbolist painter Maurice Denis said in 1890. Except that the work is not so dry or remote as that. The surfaces do not seem flat nor the colors arranged, and though the latter might suggest a certain order it is not really discernable what that order might be as a matter of aesthetic logic. Shapes of color seem to burst from some central source (each painting has a palpable center point) and to push to the edges of the canvas's rectangle, the field of vision. On the other hand, everything is pushed toward the center by shapes and colors coming from the outside, the four winds blowing from the four cardinal directions. There are equally balancing centrifugal and centripetal forces.

Jane Bolmeier 1A
© Jane Bolmeier
1A
, 1959.
Ink, oil, and enamel on canvas,
68" x 90"

Jane Bolmeier 55A
55A, 1965.
Oil and ink on canvas,
88" x 68"
These forces come from the artist's gestures, and they are expressed and understood that way. In an earlier work, like 1A of 1959 (some paintings were named for numbers they were given in storage), the shapes of dishes swing into the space as bold black or gray arcs, counterbalanced by other arcs and accompanied by the simple, oval outlines of pieces of fruit, everything in dark and light earthen colors. They create their own dynamic curvilinear structure interlocked with a network of diagonal lines, indicating furniture, architecture, spatial perspective, lines of vision. This represents the final filling up of the picture, celebrating complexity as the expression of life in stillness, life in art. The empty canvas, the place within which everything forms and evolves, is never relinquished or forgotten, never completely covered up or filled in. Earlier, Bolmeier had done a series of elegant stained canvases in which forms were just beginning to emerge. Here the staining still appears in lines of brown ink that seem to begin a general process of articulating space and form but which are largely overshadowed by more urgent and immediate methods of intruding on the surface--underpainting of various colors and arcs of brushstrokes that enter from all sides. Then come forms and indications of space.

Jane Bolmeier 44W
© Jane Bolmeier
44W, 1968.
Acrylic and ink on canvas,
50" x 48"

In the mid-1960s, Bolmeier's paints thickened, colors brightened, and shapes burgeoned into distinct ovals and circles, expanding like pregnant bodies. 55A of 1965 has pinks and blues, ochres, grays, spots of red and orange, whites. Every shape is filled with the gestures of the brush--the more identifiable ovoid shapes of the vase and flowers and the less identifiable shapes that push in from the sides like rivers. There are no objects in space; objects and space occupy the same plane. The extended lines of brown ink now divide the surface and the forms more definitively, like the demarcations of a topographical map with widely varying features bound together by fissures and natural incursions that correspond sometimes with stems and outlines but more forcefully represent the system of the painting itself, like a nerve or arterial system.


Roof Garden
© Jane Bolmeier
Westbeth Roof Garden, 1991.
Acrylic on Masonite,
20" x 16"
Gradually these elements are resolved in an extraordinary confluence of spontaneity and geometry. In 44W of 1968, each of the shapes (of vase, flowers, leaves) is drawn in ink as segments of arcs joined together. They establish a curling motion that both inspires and is part of the general spinning of motifs around the center of the almost square canvas. This curvilinear energy is picked up by sweeping brushstrokes that move into the spaces between the drawn lines and around the perimeter, where they justify the square of the picture to the circular movement, which itself is described by a large arc across the top that seems to be drawn with a protractor. The painting suggests some basic scientific or philosophical proposition about the essence of matter in motion.

Hollyhocks
© Jane Bolmeier
Hollyhocks, 2002.
Oil pastel on paper,
24" x 30"
In the later work, from 1989 on, the proposition is answered, or responded to, in a very different way that goes back to the source. It is enough that the flowers, the plants, exist in their enormous variety. Denis's formula is turned around. A certain order in ". . . a flat surface covered with colors arranged in a certain order" comes from the subject itself, flowers in Bolmeier's case. She has been led to create a furious kind of order, full of geometry and gesture, because the order is already there in the particularities of different flowers--Morning Glories, for instance, in Westbeth Roof Garden of 1991 and Hollyhocks in Hollyhocks -- Westbeth of 2002. The essence of the latter is within the dark layer that underlies the glowing red of the flower, the darkness that cannot and will not be covered. And around these images are swirls of gold paint, darker and more charged than the background of a medieval altarpiece.

Donald Goddard © 2005


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