Arresting Tranquility

A View of the Works by Isca Greenfield-Sanders

by Salvatore Lacagnina

The dialogue between painting and photography was a core component of figurative art in the second half of the 20th century. In particular, if one considers the emblematic and prolific move from pop art to hyper-realism, one can see that the considerations which emerged at that time about the potential of painting and photography still remain an open issue today and thus fertile ground for interesting artistic questioning. From Lichtenstein to Warhol, Morley and Close, the processes of art still involve the reuse of existing images, thus doubling the multi-tiered levels of signification that derive from them. It is precisely through the ostentation of the artificiality inherent in any artistic representation that a considerable portion of contemporary art, whether conceptual or otherwise, has increased its potential for expression.

The very nature of art “once removed” is thus still particularly befitting to the expressive disquietude of the most recent generations, for whom a redefinition of the role of the artist is certainly of prime importance. Indeed, considerations about the status of the image immediately become a question of aesthetics, in that they concern the potential and the very function of any representational operation.

One young and interesting artist, Isca Greenfield-Sanders, is certainly involved in this domain. It would appear that at the heart of her studies there lies an amazing wealth of stimulation, questioning and disquiet, which bring into action a bountiful play of combinations, not just in terms of history and art, but also (and possibly even more broadly) their relationship to existential and anthropological horizons.

The distinguishing feature of Isca’s work is to be found in the way she combines different techniques: she always starts from photographs selected for their uniform thematic characteristics. She then works on them to a greater or lesser extent. The initial phase generally consists of scanning the photographs, which are then digitally manipulated. The image is then printed on rice paper or watercolour paper and the artist works on the print in a whole variety of ways: with watercolors, colored pencils, ink and, for larger works, oils. But what is interesting is that the process is repeated a number of times before the final image is obtained. This means that the artist combines elaborate techniques for image processing with the traditional warmth of painting. It should also be added that her technical quality ensures an experimental approach which frees this artist, on the iconographic level, from the innovative constraints to which the avant-garde have so often accustomed us.

Working on a collection of images, Isca Greenfield-Sanders recreates a figurative universe of great stylistic and thematic continuity. The subjects she prefers are almost exclusively family units of varying sizes, portrayed as they carry out their daily actions (indeed, anything out of the ordinary has been banished), in recurrent places and situations: holiday locations, beaches or small gardens and, to a lesser extent, interiors or exteriors of small houses. A spotted dog playing with a child, a swing, men and women chatting on the lawn? these are all details which always suggest some form of movement, the habits of life in a particular place. From this point of view, Isca’s scenarios are never inert: they are always, and especially in their tranquility, the places of a story. Places which are lived in and thus protected, able to defend themselves from external offence, from wounding or from a fear of existence which this artist doubtless feels deep within herself.

Very often, for example, we do not see the faces or particular expressions of these people, and in some cases it is the very silhouette of the images which are consumed, as though the figures were threatened on all sides. What is the meaning of all this? Quite probably that the setting, the psychology and all that belongs to that particular moment, is not so important after all. What really matters, and indeed what is absolutely decisive, is the situation as a whole. In other words, the important thing is that these places should be lived in and familiar – these spaces should be protected and recognizable, and especially they should not be deserted and empty. One might say that, for this artist, the most radical fear is that both the figures and the objects which are part of their lives simply cannot be defended. The very choice of colors, which are always warm and intimate, refer to what is at least a momentary truce. It is precisely in this tranquility, in this stability of existence, that the art of Isca Greenfield-Sanders achieves its security, as it finally appears – at the point where the artist probably feels that her basic need for expression has found an adequate response.

Thus if one looks closely, the various processes of redefinition and manipulation which the initial images are subjected to are not designed so much to highlight them and glorify them as to put them to the test and provoke their resistance. Only at this point can they recognize their durability, as though verifying that those images really cannot be deleted. The pictures are pushed slightly away, their contours faded and graded as though in a soft mirage or daydream. Conversely, this increases their evocative and, in a broader sense, their “fictional” power. The work as a whole often appears to have been subjected to a stripping process which eliminates all that is considered superfluous or accidental (this can be clearly seen, for example, in an homage to the mass-produced images in the negative by Warhol). Isca Greenfield-Sanders has no love for dense, tightly packed pictures, but rather prefers the bare essentials of elementary, basic, and yet absolutely inalienable situations. All the more so since the stripping itself appears almost to confer a halo of light and thus a soft, intimate dependability on what remains.

Salvatore Lacagnina, 2001

© Copyright 1999-2017 by Isca Greenfield-Sanders.