Jane Wilson

Fischbach Gallery

Jane Wilson is a worthy heir to two great painting traditions: Romantic landscape and abstract Color Field. Her images have at once the lushness of detail that informs the best landscapes and the sweep that makes the best Color Field canvases transcendentally evocative. Wilson uses abstraction to convey the emotional resonance of nature, especially the resonance it acquires by being personalized in memory, where it becomes a symbol of unconscious forces. Thus Mountains in Memory and Valley in Memory, both 1997, are explicitly afterimages, memorable fantasies, informed by longing, especially the longing for “the beyond” that was a symbol for the Romantics of the wish for death.

All of Wilson’s works, however impressionistic—Palisades: 4:30 A.M. and September 12: Mecox Bay, 1997, profess to capture the particulars of nature at a certain moment and specific place—are a blend of fantasy and careful observation. They invite us to cross a threshold of appearances, where we arrive in an abstract space rich with invisible emotions, each taking the ghostly form of a transient gesture. No doubt the abruptness of Wilson’s quick brushstrokes is meant to convey the constantly changing atmosphere of her scenes (as did the Impressionists’), but they also indicate her own complex emotions before them. While Wilson’s paintings look outward at the world, they are deeply introspective, full of foreboding and reluctant ecstasy. However cosmic her space, it is what Gaston Bachelard calls an “intimate immensity.”

Theodor Adorno once said that art achieves depth by “figuration of antagonisms”—not by reconciliation, but by forcing oppositions into the plane of the viewer’s awareness. I think this is the secret to the subtle power of Wilson’s nature paintings: however hard she tries to blur sky, earth, and sea (perhaps most noticeably in Fog Bank at the Beach and Silence, both 1997), they remain irreconcilable. They form separate, parallel bands, each engendering its own infinity, as though it were a horizon in itself. While Wilson seems to offer the proverbial “oceanic experience”—for Freud the ultimate sign of narcissism, a defensive if spontaneous regression to the security of the womb—she in fact accepts the separation and differentiation of boundaries that are a good part of the substance of the reality principle. Even the seemingly undifferentiated flux of immanent color within the bands of her elemental depictions of nature reveals, on close examination, subtle distinctions in hue, tone, and density. Thus, while Wilson provides us with a sense of the infinite in which her parallel hands might innocently converge into a singular space, she never overlooks the smallest perception of difference, the slightest antagonism between shapes and surfaces, even as they approach a rhythmic continuum of perception. Such a continuum is, after all, the very stuff of immediacy, and there are few painters who are able to give us the sense of unmediated presence that Wilson does. That it is an emotional illusion is the very basis of her magic.

Donald Kuspit