Monday, May 19, 2014

Barbara Schreiber, Revisited

Here is one of the first art reviews I wrote for Art Papers:

Barbara Schreiber

Defending the Flower (from her recent work)
  • Source: Art Papers Date: July 1, 1987
Barbara Schreiber
Callanwolde Fine Arts Center
Atlanta, Georgia
May 1 - 29

Barbara Schreiber's recent exhibition
at Callanwolde of thirteen acrylic paintings
on paper combined qualities of
modernism with a postmodern social
concern and use of symbols. The viewer
is immediately aware of the medium,
the rich use of color, the exquisite paper—
and all the qualities Clive Bell extolled
as "Significant Form." Yet, simultaneously,
one is aware of the subject
matter: the disharmony between nature
and humanity.
At first, looking over the images of
comic figures in hostile or foreboding
landscapes, one feels indulgence in the
pleasure of seeing nature and its forces
shatter the eruptions of humankind.
Chicago, Memphis, Biloxi, and Palm
Beach are inundated by tidal waves in
the four works that make up "Into the
Water." Farm house and city buildings
are equally decimated by nature's might
in Country Weather/City Weather.
Other images create variations on this
theme. In Are You Ready For L.A.? the
setting is inviting enough, but the three
grotesque, grinning figures recall biting
gremlins. Fat Boy in the Full Moon suggests
a vital connection between the boy
and the moon he resembles. Yet there
are alienation and a faceless uneasiness
in the painting.
This uneasiness increases the more
closely one views Schreiber's works. It
continues as her images haunt the
memory. What was merely comic at
first takes on a sinister aspect, revealing
the callousness of human vanity and the
unnatural evil it produces. This evil is
depicted in Looking Great All the Time,
in which the fluff of a newsperson's pastel
blond hair is far more important and
requires more attention than the dying
figures in the disaster she is about to report.
Ambulance Chasers with its sinister,
ghostly ambulance gaped at by
thrill-seeking onlookers reveals a similar
Schreiber is able to communicate her
sense of nature and human disconnection
on many levels. Her modernism, including
her mastery of color, allows her
to work on a subconscious level, using
rich earth colors for nature and sickly,
pastel colors for people and what they
have erected, whether skyscrapers, automobiles,
houses, or helicopters. The last,
used in two of the paintings, recall the
destructive "choppers" in such Vietnam
war films as Apocalypse Now. Schreiber
is also able to use the most basic archetypal
symbols in ways straightforward
and simple enough not to be trite. The
sun, moon, and sea all appear in new aspects
in her paintings. In Pull Sun, for instance,
the sun seems diseased, turned
green by what is, no doubt, smog from
the nearby city. The lone sunbather on
the long expanse of beach appears to be
dead. Similarly, the pinkish biomorphic
figure Laid Out on a Slope looks like an
ecological disaster victim dead on a
Grant Wood landscape of round, green
The sensually rendered images offer a
wide range of possible interpretations,
allowing humor and allowing horror. I
began to imagine that Schreiber desires
some sort of pagan pantheism, longing
for lost rituals that would reconnect us
with sun, moon, sea, and land. Her expression
of the richness of the earth, sky,
and water is too loving to be otherwise. I
wonder, though, given the sort of humanity
revealed in the form of ambulance
chasers and egoistic newscasters,
how we are to avoid ending up, ourselves,
like the apparently dead cows lying
prey to the sinister, purple auto
rounding the slope of A Ride in the
One of Oscar Wilde's famous quips
was that it is nature which imitates art.
He meant, of course, that art influences
the way we see and hence what we see. I
hope in the case of Schreiber's art that
reality does not come to imitate the vision
she renders. Or better, that Schreiber
comes in future paintings to present
to us a vision of a humanity worth imitating.
Jack Miller

Jack Miller is visiting professor of philosophy
and aesthetics at the Atlanta College of Art.

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