Rosalyn Schwartz

Gwenda Jay Gallery

Rosalyn Schwartz’s dark, dreamy landscapes and still lifes are characterized by a humid and brooding dankness. She is an artist much interested in the moment when the fecund becomes the fetid, when ripeness is poised on the inevitable brink of decay. There is a willful romanticism in all of this, and Schwartz’s work seems fueled by a desire to discover in nature a metaphor for the modulations of the human spirit.

In Offering, 1990, an incredible goblet, overflowing with grapes in a bacchic paean of dark joy, emerges from a dim background. A carpet of deep violet and purple fruit hangs heavy with its own excess—misty, veiled, mysterious, and poignant. There is a kind of a Caravaggesque surfeit of sensuality to this painting, a heady plenitude just barely contained in the world of appearances. Schwartz’s pictorial tendency to mix rich, scumbled painterly passages with occasional detours into descriptive realism gives this painting the status of an apparition, a dream run rampant.

An identification of nature with human behavioral patterns is most fully worked out in the landscapes; there are moments in her work when the appearance of exterior nature and our internal weather reveal striking resemblances. The channels of our hearts, the rolling rivers of blood in our veins, and the matter of our internal organs become the grist for Schwartz’s visceral imagery. Sometimes this organic quality can lead to cloying and literal solutions; Apparition, 1990, seems too obviously a transcription of female genitalia, and some of Schwartz’s smaller paintings read as slight and precious. But in images such as Heart, 1990, Schwartz turns what could so easily appear hackneyed and trite—a big painting of a heart—into a nuanced and poetically suggestive gesture. In a series of recent paintings of spectacular waterfalls, Schwartz surrenders most completely to a gushing and revelatory romanticism. We happen upon each of these precipices as if we had just emerged from a cave; only the cascading water and the lush plants relieve the gloom. Water courses through these images like a metaphor for blood, making life. Here, fantasy sets the stage for discovery, and the forces pulsing within nature find their echo and companion in our world of feeling, as if some chord or vibration unites them.

James Yood