by David M. Roth
You may, at first glance, associate Carole Silverstein’s paintings with Pattern & Decoration, a movement comprised mostly, but not entirely, of female artists who, under the banner of Feminism, sought to bring craft-based practices into the loftier realm of fine art. Silverstein’s paintings appear to follow suit, as they contain the many of same kinds of imagery and patterns seen in the work of painters like Joyce Kozloff, Miriam Shapiro and Valerie Jaudon, mainstays during P&D’s heyday, the 1970s and 1980s.
However, it’s also evident from the titles Silverstein assigns to her paintings (e.g. these languages of reverence; gesture prayer & invocation etc.) that her art is, above all else, a spiritual practice. Out of it flow a variety of closely linked compositional strategies that make it abundantly clear that she is far less interested in elevating “women’s work” than in probing ideas of unity and interrelatedness taught by the various strains of Buddhism to which she, as a devotee, has long adhered.
For this exhibition, titled our mingling spirits, she appropriates and combines decorative motifs from several nations (China, Japan, India, Morocco, Spain), faiths (Islam, Judaism, Tibetan Buddhism) and literary traditions (the 12th century Heian Japanese scroll on which The Tale of Genji was originally inscribed). Silverstein pulls freely from these sources without regard for hierarchies, and in this way she forges links between competing systems of thought.
She paints patterns onto mylar using metallic ink that behaves anamorphically. Meaning, iridescent hues seen in certain passages change color depending on where you stand. She employs collage, pasting inked snippets onto fluid washes as a way of weaving disparate images together. And in several works she lays sweeping calligraphic flourishes across repeating patterns, injecting fluid dynamism into pieces that might otherwise read as static field paintings. A good example of the latter is in your thousand other forms, a painting in which Star of David shapes, borrowed from the Synagogue Lazama in Marrakech, surround an arch filled with patterns based on those found Moroccan mosques.
Space plays an equally important role in Silverstein’s art. She activates it by using contour drawing to create transparent portals which, in works like the space between (boundaries and veils), make it difficult to tell what kind of space is being depicted: interior, exterior or some combination of the two. These ambiguities are even more pronounced in these languages of reverence, where pattern-filled “cloud formations,” interrupted by architectural fragments,appear to hover. where you end and begin also deserves close attention for the way loosely drawn floral patterns resembling mountains contain box-like structures that recall the uphill march of “ticky-tacky” houses in Daly City. These kinds of spatial dislocations, perhaps more than any other feature of Silverstein’s art, are what compel sustained viewing.
The exhibition also includes a grid of nine limited-edition photo collages, assembled quickly and intuitively from magazines. In these the artist shows a strong Surrealist/Symbolist bent, evidenced by the profusion of floating eyeballs. In one collage, they cluster in a “thought balloon” above a boy’s head. It shows him, eyes closed, clutching a vacuum cleaner hose, with one end placed to his mouth, the other to an ear, as if listening to the roar of the ocean in a seashell.
In the end, I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if the artist were to unite these two parts of her practice. They appear to be mutually exclusive, if not miles apart. But as jazz legend Fats Waller liked to say, “One never knows, do one?” To that there’s probably a bona fide answer, maybe even a smart a Zen retort.
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Carole Silverstein: our mingling spirits @ Nancy Toomey Fine Art through May 18, 2019.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.