ARTSHIFT welcomes responses from the community to our articles and reviews. Here are Stephen French’s comments, received in response to Erin Goodwin-Guerrero’s review of Lynn Powers paintings in her Winter show at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara. We apologize for a somewhat tardy publication of this thoughtful commentary on both the exhibition and works in question.
By Stephen French
Lynn Powers revisits Vermeer
In her ARTSHIFT review of Lynn Power’s Twenty Year Survey at the Triton Museum, Erin Goodwin finds Powers’ most recent work (based on familiar Vermeer paintings) narrow in focus, missing the richness of surface and symbol of earlier work and “relatively impersonal next to her signature painting style.”
True, Power’s most recent paintings move away from the familiar painterly surfaces and varied textures of the artist’s earlier work but in doing so they greatly expand on the essential and most personal qualities of her work.
These include the rich play of light, shadow and luminosity found in Power’s early work which is continued and greatly intensified in the new Vermeer pieces. These new pieces also amplify the meditative qualities of stillness and repose that reside at the heart of her most powerful work. In addition the notioon of the “precious object” often highlighted in previous work is reinvented – now found in Vermeer’s paintings. A partial string of pearls, a spool of thread, an earring are celebrated and given unexpected personal focus. Ironically what is new and enriching in these paintings is what is missing – Vermeer’s figures. We are presented with a dramatic conundrum. Where is the milk maid, the lady of the house, where are they, where have they gone, why are they missing? No longer present (except in memory) they conjure a magical disappearance, an absence, an enigma that brings a new dream like, surreal character to Power’s 21 Century remembrances.
Its important to note that these “Vermeer paintings” are not attempts to simply replicate the originals. Powers has changed the size, the scale, the proportions of the paintings and the details of paintings to her own ends. Like composers from Mozart to Stravinsky, artists and poets have borrowed predecessors’ themes and structures to enhance, inform and enlarge their own work. The best of cases as here, honor the forerunner and enrich the borrower’s art. And, as an artist friend said to me, when you work with Vermeer you really can show what a kick-ass painter you are!