In the past it was considered trite, but peace may be making a comeback in the world of art. 

Give Peace a Chance

The possibility of a sustainable state of peace has always been an inevitable subject of discussion. The ancient Buddhas of Afghanistan, recently toppled by the Taliban, were an artistic symbol of the current situation, the World Trade Center a more visceral one. I, myself, have been looking for art that addresses the idea of peace and peacefulness, art that corroborates peace's place in the world, enlarging its inventory, interpreting its complexity and giving it fresh wisdom. The essential conundrum of peacefulness — both inner and outer — has been that our restless, aggressive culture had already made peace as a subject seem trite. One must be disposed to penetrate and assume it, open to its nuances and satisfied by its emptiness and uneasiness. With the current global situation, it may be that material items will no longer create safety and security, and peace and plenty may not always be a team.

Both Timothy McClellan and Kathleen Markowitz make art about the process of developing inner peace, meditation. They paint the method. For both artists, the process is pared down to accommodate degrees of ambient and internal light, time and sensory perception to the extent that these elements can be described in two dimensions and by something other than themselves. The effort to capture these elusive circumstances is the artist's exercise; the effort to recognize them is the cerebral work of the viewer.

Kathleen Markowitz's quiet series of azure and lichen-color paintings, "Silent Spaces," are still lifes. Often a single object — usually a chair, sometimes a bed or a ladder — gravitates in a seemingly vacant space. A sheltering, even inviting loneliness envelops the scene. It is comfortable because it is not an actual space that Markowitz locates; she has purposefully avoided all of the architecture of reality. The domain she creates is a subconscious room where memories lie resting lightly and transparently upon themselves like an elusive recurring dream or a grandmother's handkerchief drawer.

In the scrim of Markowitz's gauzy encaustic surfaces one can detect simple secret markings etched into lower layers and recounted only by raking light. Each painting's impression is modestly childlike, spontaneous, vulnerable and poignant. Wobbly outlines tenuously describe each furnishing and are often reemphasized as though the pencil or crayon would not cooperate satisfactorily or a different color seemed to suddenly be in order. In her unfettered, spontaneous way the artist's chairs, beds and ladders become delicate, tentative animal beings: us. She has them watching, waiting, longing, gathering and choosing. One can determine this through the painting's titles, but it will be evident in each subject's pose before you check. These are works that make one cherish the nature of humans when isolated out of all extroverted dramas and pretenses; they are elementary, pure, graceful and refreshingly genuine.

Timothy McClellan has assembled a number of smaller paintings for his "Meditation Series." McClellan develops his richly surfaced paintings from various layered applications of saturated pigment intermixed with encaustic and marble dust. The meditative quality of his work is encountered as the viewer becomes absorbed in the revelatory destruction of the planes. Their sequential patinas resurface through McClellan's deconstruction of what he has just built. The resulting paintings, tarnished, breached and aged by the assault, become stratified like the earth and all things that reside there overlong. Adjacent margins of contrasting paint formalize the presentation and turn it from geology to geometry. An involuntary impulse of viewing these non-images is the tendency to become like concentrating cats, focusing on nothingness and finding small fascinations.

McClellan's paintings acknowledge the subtle almost symphonic beauty that comes out of devastation, when chaos creates its own new terms. In the controlled reenactment of this natural process is an artistic metaphor for a phenomenon that is often difficult to accept in life. McClellan's work's adventure is a habitually inquisitive, repetitive one; its Zen conclusion is an experiment in the orchestrated chance that issues from originating material.

With a shared aptitude for the unsecured, both of these quiet, introspective exhibitions offer — to borrow from an old Bob Dylan song — shelter from the storm.


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