Catherine Jozwik
Visual Art

Take a Look Through My Kaleidoscope

Artist Robin Jebavy turns paintings of glassware into dizzyingly dense fields of color.

By - May 14th, 2019 10:17 am
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“Kaleidoscopic Tensions.” Photo courtesy of MOWA.

“Kaleidoscopic Tensions.” Photo courtesy of MOWA.

Several recent Milwaukee art exhibitions, among them Michelle Grabner’s “American Trompe l’oeil” (at the Green Gallery) have centered around ideas of materialism and elevating the mundane. In these exhibitions, audiences are asked to examine common household items in a new light.

In her current exhibition, “Kaleidoscopic Tensions,” artist Robin Jebavy has selected everyday glassware, much of which she purchased at thrift stores and flea markets, as subjects for her striking, finely-detailed paintings.

The exhibition, now on display at the Museum of Wisconsin Art’s St. John’s on the Lake location on Prospect Ave., consists about 10 of Jebavy’s acrylic paintings, many on large-scale canvases.

Inspired by impressionist Paul Cezanne, Dutch still-life paintings from the 1600s, and contemporary artists Janet Fish and Beth Lipman, Jebavy explores the numerous possibilities of glass as an artistic medium, with visually thrilling results.

The artist, a 2016 Mary L. Nohl Fellow and 2018 MAE Foundation Award recipient who graduated in 2004 with a BA in Visual Arts and Philosophy from Vermont’s Bennington College, experiments with rich colors, light and form with her hypnotic works.

Jebavy’s paintings, like the ruby-hued “Set Table with Lenses (Red),” (2014), “Set Table with Lenses (Amber),” (2015) and the multicolored “Set Table with Lenses (Prisms)” (2015) appear to be filtered through a kaleidoscope or a special photography lens. Rows of fluted pitchers, wine glasses half-filled with liquid, and plates with white painted or etched leaf patterns create stunning reflections, which Jebavy expertly and painstakingly captures on canvas.

Although her glassware is inexpensive and mass-produced, the artist arranges it to appear elegant, almost priceless. Her cut-glass pieces are reminiscent of chandeliers in glamorous ballrooms, and elaborate centerpieces found at opulent 1920s dinner parties—or in a royal dining room. Some glassware appears to be patterned after crowns and tiaras.

“The glass radiates a breathless sparkle, drawing the viewer into a wondrous world. I see that component of the work as essential to my vision and quest; its purpose is neither to merely celebrate provincial, homey notions of beauty nor to critique consumerism in our culture,” writes Jebavy in her artist statement.

Besides ordinary glassware, Jebavy is also influenced by cathedral architecture. In her painting “JS Bach’s Organ,” (2015) she depicts the translucent beauty of stained-glass windows and the imposing symmetry of pipe organs. The large-scale organ, surrounded by glass candles, plates, and wine glasses, also feels like a visual representation of sound, with colors ranging from rich gold to fiery red to cool blue. One can “see” the tinkling of the glasses and the sonorous pitch of the pipe organ.

“I often consider the intersection of painting and architecture as I include glass pieces that call to mind cathedral interiors,” writes Jebavy. “The nearly symmetrical edifices that emerge often exude a cathedral-like energy, evoking oceanic feelings of sublimity and beauty; modest objects take on a monumental presence as they spiral off the tabletop and expand far beyond the domestic interior.”

Like many artists who meditatively incorporate geometric shapes in their paintings, Jebavy’s works appear to be infinite, with seemingly endless pieces of glassware coupled with reflections. It’s easy to become engrossed in her phenomenal paintings.

“Kaleidoscopic Tensions” Gallery

Robin Jebavy, “Kaleidoscopic Tensions,” through August 9, at the Museum of Wisconsin Art’s St. John’s on the Lake location, 1840 N. Prospect Ave.

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