by Marge Bulmer
(Koplin Gallery, West Hollywood) Since World War I, the 20th Century has witnessed fragmented art emphasizing process, concept and deconstruction. However, over the past twenty years there has been a renewed interest figurative, reconstructive art. Both Sandra Sallin and Kent Twitchell champion the latter by creating figurative art that aspires to the sublime. Neither is concerned with art that reflects irony or world weariness.
Sallin's light, casual manner belies her art, which is exacting and flawless. She researches her subject matter, carefully choosing each flower that she will depict. The blooms must have historical and emotional resonance, like the rose, which symbolizes earthly passion, or the tulip that connotes perfect love. In addition to her subject, Sallin explores materials until she finds the right pencils and erasers for a drawing, or perfect brushes for a painting. Preparing her canvas is also significant to achieving the right effect. Four layers of gesso are each sanded with progressively finer sandpaper until the surface is as sensual and soft as a petal before the painting begins. Then to maintain an unflawed line Sallin works with a magnifying glass. Each work takes one to four months to complete.
When asked how she achieves the lush, rich black background, she exclaims, "I hold my breath." Mixing red, green, burnt umber, black and marine blue, she carefully works the background until it is absolutely smooth, so as not to distract from the image. The blooms are thus spotlighted on a darkened stage. Though inanimate they become metaphors of dancers, poised for an enigmatic, mesmerizing performance. The abstract patterns formed by reflections in a crystal vase accompany the blossoms, while the black ground sets the tone.
Influenced by early Netherlandish painting and illuminated manuscripts, Sallin adores the vehicle she has chosen. Although she sees the finished product in her mind's eye before painting, she makes numerous sketches before starting. The care and ritual of preparation poetically reinforces the content. What is conveyed is a reminder of the times when life is at its best.
Twitchell's heroic icons echo Sallin's search for perfection. His vehicle, however, is the human form, particularly the face. His is the classical, complete, coherent figure as a measure of devine perfection. Coupled with his historic art impulse is a consciousness of contemporary values. His portraits are ideals onto which society projects it's own identity. Subjects are caught in a repose that communicates a truth that daily activity conceals. The viewer may slowly examine a half-smile, a contemplative gaze, a smooth brow, or a sideways glance. The contemporary icons trigger the imagination as one has an opportunity to memorize each nuance.
Included are studies of Diana Ross, Grace Kelly, Marian Anderson and Errol Flynn, all preparations for his American Icon series of murals, all conceived to be site specific. Ross gazes down at us haughtily, confident, pensive, and apart. She is lost in thought, untouchable and unreachable. Grace Kelly confronts us with an icy, blond perfection, her pearl drop earrings tastefully accenting her chiseled features. Every hair in place, she is the incarnation of Dante's Beatrice. Marian Anderson's countenance fills the space, her eyes straight ahead, her mouth set. Strong and capable, she is a no nonsense character. Errol Flynn is conversly boyish and flirtatious, sporting a half-smile, dimpled chin, half-raised eyebrow, and a come-hither look. He is the embodiment of every girl's dream of the shy boy/man--and every woman's disappointment.
These two artists present work that has an underlying sense of hope, with no hint of a shadow of mortality. Robert Browning's words come to mind: "Ah a man's reach should exceed his grasp/Or what's a heaven for."