RITA STERN


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(1) "Piano Player (After Matisse)",oil and collage on paper, 29 x 22", 1995.
(2) "She Said (Red Man)", oil and collage on paper, 44 x 30", 1995.
(3) "The Walk", oil and collage on paper, 30 x 44", 1995.
(4) "PCH North", oil and collage on paper, 44 x 30", 1995.

by Judith Christensen

(TAG, The Artists' Gallery, Santa Monica) Touches of Matisse, Gauguin and the Bay Area Figurative painters appear in Rita Stern's work. She blends these historic influences with contemporary moves--attaching photographs and newspaper clippings to the surface--and filters them through her own perspective to achieve a distinct style in these oil and collage pieces.
Her landscapes are pleasant, but gain force with the addition of figures. In Enough Sun , two figures are leaving the scene. They follow a light-colored path that cuts through a dark green field. Although the perspective in this and several other landscapes reflects an Asian influence, the pathway, which narrows as it moves up the canvas, does not. These contrasts in color and perspective accentuate the figures' movement away from the viewer.

This sense of moving away and turning away is typical of Stern's treatment of the figure. She Said (Red Man) depicts a man facing sideways. Since what he is looking at is not visible in the picture, the viewer must speculate about his activity. Is he looking out a window at something or is he simply lost in thought?

It is clear what the boy in Piano Player (after Matisse) is doing, at least initially. Once again the figure faces away from the viewer, so we do not see his face or hands. At the top of the picture clouds cut into this domestic scene, suggesting that the boy's thoughts may be elsewhere. Instead of practicing, he may be daydreaming.

In The Walk, a woman who is carrying a young child casts her eyes downward, towards the child, to sug- gest concern and a feeling of protection. There is a sense of menace in this painting that is not present in other work. The vertical stripes in the background seem to close off the area oc-cupied by the figures. Also in the background are two faceless figures, one light, one dark. Because they are articulated only minimally they may not be real. Perhaps they represent the woman's memories, or her apprehension about the future. One can imagine the child, whose face we do not see, to be sleeping. Yet, given the anxious undercurrent of the image and the ghost-like quality of the background figures, the child may be dead.

Stern's presentation of figures who, for the most part, face away from the viewer, emphasizes the distance between observer and observed. Because theis focus is inaccessible or, at best, ambiguous, we are reminded how difficult it is to surmise what another person is feeling or thinking.