New York

Judy Rifka

Brooke Alexander Cohen

The sensibility that governs the way we see today is based on the appeal of synthetic imagery perceived in fast time. Over the years, Judy Rifka has investigated different aspects of this kind of imagery, including its media underpinnings. Her recent paintings push the sensibility into a new, epic dimension which rates close attention.

Several examples dealing with the theme of war succeed in moving the viewer unusually powerfully. The means is a keen ability to subvert the distancing effect of the media’s instantaneous portrayals of war, an ability to build emotion into the very structure of the picture. In Beirut Excavation, 1984, for example, soldiers lift fallen comrades from a ditch. Painted on linen, the scene is stretched over an irregularly shaped wooden frame. The powerfully gestural configuration of the support, bringing to mind splayed animal skin, dynamizes the picture’s impact with the disturbing train of associations it sets off.

Rifka is no less articulate about the positive sides of life. The mountain scene in Builders, 1983, its extremely high horizon topped by the sun, is the ideal bucolic setting for the small figures of industrious farmers working on the slopes. In both viewpoint and subject matter the painting recalls the fields and farmlands of Van Gogh, and the general tradition of metaphorical landscapes of which he is such a master. Like Van Gogh, Rifka represents the universal dynamism of nature in the very interstices of the painting: what he did with his wonderfully fibrous brushstrokes, she does with the psychologically imposing physicality of her relief structure. The linen surface is stretched over plywood elements covered with wire mesh. It accommodates both the illusion and the reality of depth. Bits of oil pigment extend over the internal edges in the underlying structure, seeming to encapsulate the organic, untamable force of nature. The black-outlined forms and white shadows bathe the scene in a luminous light. The heightened optical sensations offered by the tremendously active and rhythmical surfaces of Builders and other paintings of similar format lie at the source of their fascination.

Ronny Cohen