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by Marlena Donohue

(L.A. Artcore, Downtown) Jean Edelstein has been working for more than two decades, steadily challenging the boundaries of her craft in an art world that (often correctly) takes continual experimentation with divergent styles as lack of single-minded rigor. Edelstein had the courage to move from abstract color field painting, to gestural studies of the body in motion, to fully figurative styles. She has not been loathe in a prickly art ambience over the last ten years to take on tough issues like the goddess cult that grew out of feminism. Most recently she's delved into the phenomenon of human political tragedy via her Disaster Series. These latter ink and acrylic works are some of the most satisfying of her representational offerings, and indicate that Edelstein can be a steady, sure draftsperson with touches of the watery line and intense human pathos of Kathe Kollwitz.

Nor has this artist been afraid to assume a spiritual platform: the early abstractions were seen as talismans; the dance works and her studies of hooded Korean dancers were viewed from within a long shamanistic tradition in which mark and motion were linked to timeless rituals of self discovery. This in a town where excellent conceptual work can make subject matter that presumes the existence of a standard of Truth seem dated and puerile.

All that said, those very things that have earned for Edelstein our respect--staying power, wide-ranging experimentation--may have limited a versatile, energetic and dedicated artist from actually locating and working through a singular visual voice and a personal artistic agenda. These are the tight parameters that one feels are missing in looking at the variety and spread of Edelstein's retrospective.

Trained at no nonsense places like Pratt, the Art Students' League and UCLA, Edelstein came up during a time when experimentation and a sort of Beat commitment to personal truth allowed artists to romp all over the place; you got kudos for that sort of stuff.

Her early emblematic color field abstractions glimmer with a cracked surface beauty. They are masterfully pigmented and thought out. Today they look tremendously decorative because the cult of fine surfaces that bore them has passed. But they remind us of Edelstein’s innate ability to understand and wield color, surface and line; it is in these works where you feel that her unmined potential lies.

Throughout her career, she has made a study of form for its own sake, the human body in particular. The development of her abstractions was interrupted in the ‘80s when she moved to linking abstract gesture to dance performance. In Isadora Duncan-esque/Merce Cunningham fashion, free-form movers would leap and bend expressively, while behind a glass Edelstein tracked the essence of shape and motion in linear skeins at lightning speed. It was a totally ‘60s merger of dance, art performance, and multi-media self-analysis exhumed for the Neo-Expressionist atmosphere of the mid-‘80s.

Studio Performance", Venice,
California, 1987.Photo: Gary
Moss. Dancer: Camille Bertolet.

Disaster Series #16", (detail: Bosnia), ink/acrylic on paper, 2000.

Artist and the Shaman 44",
acrylic on canvas, 64 x 75", 1992.

"Temple Series 'Kyoto'", acrylic
on hypro, 96 x 48", 1980.

Edelstein shifted from the dance and gestural series to study the nude figure--mostly female. She made huge and small bathers and other nudes seen in both joyous and repentant looking groupings that remind us of the private nude bacchanals done by the repressed, young Cezanne. Edelstein's nudes are neither so didactic nor edgy, and unfortunately do not hold our interest. In Paradise Reinterpreted lumbering nudes with their faces covered seem to walk against a wind that pushes them out of the picture frame, out of paradise. It is Ruth Weisberg without that virtuoso anatomical clarity that gives Weisberg's work a more than narrative punch. Through the early ‘90s, Edelstein made a series of Degas-esque Backs in watercolor and pastel. All lit up by her bright stippled tones, the females bend away from us with broad backs bathed in pretty color--we have seen it too many times.

In the end this is what we can say: Edelstein is courageous, facile and talented. She is energetic and has the economic latitude to try it all. She has been forthrightly challenging herself to study both the mechanics of mark making and the spiritual underpinnings of the creative life for over twenty years. She is a local veteran, and for all of this and more she merits our respect.