Santa Monica

Janis Provisor

Goldeen Gallery

Janis Provisor infuses an edgy, nervous quality into her new paintings that counterpoints their seductive beauty. Although these works might be read as lush, elegant abstractions, their imagery recalls thorny landscapes of thick, leafless brambles. With their mixture of oil paint and metal leaf—gold, silver, or copper—Provisor’s paintings bring to mind the memory of Byzantine murals or medieval manuscripts. In contrast to traditional painting’s illusionistic depth and perspective, her images play along the surface, like shimmering reflections on water that remain visually impenetrable. Interspersed with the metal leaf, passages of oil paint act as windows; through these, we peer into what seem to be entrances to space in the pictures.

In The Nick of Time, 1988, for example, a mixture of black paint and gold leaf looks as if it were brushed across the canvas, a misty curtain of color that fades in and out. A swirl of aqua toward the bottom of the painting, almost a puddle, flows around a sinuous stalk of dark blue paint that bisects the foreground. At the left, oddly shaped forms hover—bushes, perhaps. And at the right, a wispy waterfall of pale blue falls across the canvas from the top to a point two-thirds of the way down. At the very bottom of the painting, a slightly curving dark green band of paint runs from one side of the canvas to the other. The Nick of Time is a fantasy, an almost nightmarish landscape. Its plantlike forms are leafless and lifeless; its water still, perhaps even frozen, for its particular blue hue makes it seem cold. Yet that lifelessness does not repel. It is alluring in its iciness: inaccessible, unfriendly, but desirable. Provisor’s silver leaf, as in Parachute, 1987, is even icier than her gold. The painting shines like an early morning landscape after a blizzard. China Wash, 1987, though warmer, seems no less ruthless. Here, the artist’s mixture of red paint with gold leaf makes for a picture that looks almost bloody.

Provisor has recently been looking at much Chinese painting, which also makes extensive use of metallic surfaces, and is applying her own vision of that source here. The aloofness and inaccessibility is similar, but the landscapes of Provisor’s work are rooted in an earthier spirituality and awe of nature that harks back to northern Europeans like Caspar David Friedrich. The quasi-abstract and otherworldly feeling that we often find in Terry Winters’ paintings is present here, too. But Provisor’s paintings have an emotional resonance of both pleasure and pain that are all their own.

Susan Freudenheim