The Sheer Dazzle of Glass
Robin Jebavy’s large, still life paintings are showy, but how much is below the surface?
The Lynden Gallery exhibition of artist Robin Jebavy includes just eight works, but they are big, often about the size of a door, so it doesn’t feel like a small show. She also has abundant technique, so the exhibit doesn’t lack for showmanship. Her paintings are often still lifes, concentrating on multiple glass objects, in a style that is dense and layered, capturing complicated reflections and points of light in works the Lynden exhibition calls “crystalline labyrinths.” The Dutch masters of the Baroque era have been a particular influence on her, Jebavy says (she describes her work as “neo-baroque”), but her work seems quite different in approach.
Jebavy’s father is an artist and art teacher. She was raised around and immersed in art, visiting museums, seeing her father work. But her style is very different, she says: “He’s a Minimalist and I’m a Maximalist.” Jebavy describes her undergraduate study abroad in Florence, Italy as a crucial experience, both artistically and personally. She switched from making self-portraits to larger, quite different works during graduate school at the University of Iowa. She created installation pieces that sought to immerse the viewer in a “metaphysical” space, and her current work, as the Lynden describes it, is “to offer the viewer an experience that evokes the original, sublime, oceanic feelings of union with the strange and mysterious ‘other,’ of self with universe.”
This goal is quite different than that of the Dutch Masters, who were far more grounded and sensual in their paintings. They developed the still life in response to the decadence the Catholic Church, often painting a carefully selected grouping of objects symbolic of the passage of time and suggesting the fleeting nature of sensual pleasures. Their meticulous execution became a feat of virtuosity for the painter. (Ironically, they were often called “vanities,” referring to the vanity of the viewer, given his/her ultimate demise, but the paintings were also a vanity piece for the artists — essentially showing off their technical abilities as a painter.)
Some of her works are horizontal compositions which portray objects on a table as an Old Master painting might, but there the resemblance ends. Jebavy photographs assorted glass objects and vessels and then carefully layers them in Photoshop. One section may contain 200 images, compressed to form a complex, crystalline image, which she then meticulously paints. Sometimes the still life starts with a clear glass containing colored water, other times the glass is lit with different gels to achieve various color shifts. “Blue Still Life,” “Red Still Life” and “Green Still Life” are three different such works, all densely woven and layered, such that they become almost surreal.
There was a theatricality to Baroque paintings, with their dramatic lighting and activated space, that brought the viewer into them. By contrast, Jebavy’s work, with all its layering and photo-shopping, symmetry and repetition, obscures any sense of the light source and is always reflecting back at the viewer. The result is surprisingly opaque, a showy surface that nullifies the transparency of the glass objects.
Robin Jebavy: “Recent Paintings” continues until May 31 at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W. Brown Deer Rd.
-And the RedLine Gallery has extended until May 31st its Johanna Poehlmann show, which we reviewed here.