Sfumato: New Italian Landscape Monotypes by Charles W. Goolsby Jennifer Pepper, Alfred University, March 2003 The Italian word, Sfumato, refers literally to the non-definitive painted or inked edge that blurs and oscillates between lightness and darkness. It is this momentary state that gives rise and recognition to the creation of illusionary form. It is here, in-between shimmering impressions where light and shadow traverse, suggesting that each is necessary for the other to speak. One is reminded that a picture, any picture, is a construction of our world. It is within these transitory translations that remain present in material, in motion, and in memory, that a picture may be read and interpreted, continually. It is in this interactive synergy where the paintings and monotypes of Charles W. Goolsby reside and remain alive, forever speaking.
Philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty has presented the phenomenological ideas between the interfacing boundaries of subject and object, that may be said to parallel the illuminative pathways into Goolsby’s work: The body, is never just an object in the world, but the very medium whereby our world comes into being, it is through this communication that we are located and defined(1).
Goolsby’s recent Italian monotypes of 2002 make evident the connection between the subtle and seductive skin of the plate’s surface and the artist. One can say that Goolsby is forever tethered to the skin of the picture. Through formalist means, he offers experiential sites that affect our kinesthetic selves immeasurably. His works articulate the rapid transformations of ephemeral radiant light that has the holding power of stabilizing forms in place. Process makes this evident. Whether it is pushing material around on a canvas or a zinc plate, or the conscious rearrangement of shifting viewpoints and planes in space, or in the physical process of the artist, who emotionally has immersed himself into the lush filled ancient beauty of the Italian landscape, all brings rise to things yet unnamed. As audience to these new monotypes, we too make direct contact. This is what brings about our engaged excitement to his work.
Within Goolsby’s inked and painted constructed worlds, framed landscapes are presented as liminalports where form and content remain in pause - as if coming up for air. It is in this pregnant pausewhere light meets darkness, space meets form, abstraction meets representation, and temporality meets stasis bringing about the complexity of his work and its ability to transport us, magically. In these landscapes, where the gasp for humid-filled-air is thick and almost too stifling dense, lie the potential to acquire meaning from their highly constructed fields. Here, the blinding sunlight gives way to somber shadowed space bringing about the pleasures that connect us to the printed surfaces. We are no longer on the marginal fringes of Otherness, but are situated at their thresholds. Through sensitive composition, and where sfumato gives rise to things known and unknown, we are about to take our first steps into these ambiguous terrains. In looking at the artist’s Italian monotypes, we are offered multiple entranceways into them. At once, they are Albertianwindows; the linear perspectival system that was invented in the Italian Renaissance that incorporated the use of orthogonals to recede into constructed spaces for our eyes to drift along. Goolsby is a constructor of these spaces and certainly knows the system of linear perspective. The monotypes are portals that function as lenses onto spaces that unfold before us. As the architect of these vestiges, Goolsby’s work operates as apertures that offer radial expansion of focal points scattering across the pictorial plane in all directions, suggesting no hierarchical arrangement of forms or to the space in which they adhere. Thus, importantly, denoting that all components that architectonically are situated within the pictorial surface share equal footing.
Liminal ports, entranceways, and windows serve as frameworks to support Goolsby's diaphanous atmospheres, igniting the notion that spatial conditions are in constant ebb and flow. It is within these locations-non-locations that connections between interior to exterior, image to idea, subject to object, and artist to world exist. Gestural marks take us through Goolsby’s dramatic interpretations only to repel us back out again through the circular motion of chiaroscuro. The fluid monotypes are sites created by the push and pulls made by the artist’s body. Freely and openly, Goolsby masterfully orchestrates each composition through the undulation of light and dark, illumination and ambiguity, form and space, allowing our attention to be absorbed by each, only for us to return to them again and again. We are given the freedom to wander through and fully embody the printed solitudes. Our gaze catapults us inside these mythic places which are punctuated by everyday things: a bush, a tree, a shadow, a pathway, Italian archways and ominous courtyards, the blinding light of open swelling skies. Each printed reflection is devoid of human presence – we enter, we wander, we experience worlds that we now fill with our own human activity. It is here where presence and absence join. Scrutinized memory sheds light on histories. The addition and subtraction of Goolsby’s activated and sophisticated mark making system gives attention to the specificities of place that propel our gaze.
At the heart of Goolsby’s work dramatic lighting concerns emphasize atmospheric conditions and their traces. It is within this activity - Goolsby’s sensitivity and bravura - that marks reside and dwell, giving rise to dream like places; a suspended residence for spatial concerns, where abstraction meets representation just this side of recognition. How can one moment, one expression, one presentation translate the ancient Italian landscape essentially and completely? Goolsby has said that the excitement for him is making his return to a new plate, a new canvas to begin again. He is a thoughtful communicator of visual expression where he submerges himself thoroughly into the journey. It is in the risk taking and questioning, in the seeking out concerns and answers that Goolsby is freely willing to accept of his spirit. This type of trip taking propels oneself into alternative places and into the unknown, where one may take up residence, if only for a while. Through commitment of expressive gesture and meaningful artistic practice, we inherently respond with livened eyes to Goolsby’s new monotypes. It is within these painterly passages and porous utterances made from inked plates that embed reflections onto paper where Goolsby’s work speaks to temporality and the specificities of space as transitional locations that oscillate seamlessly between interior and exterior, space and structure, abstraction and reality, self and world.
Jennifer Pepper, Associate Professor of Art at Cazenovia College since August 2003, is a visual artist whose sculptural work and drawings have been exhibited nationally and internationally since 1990. Pepper has been an invited artist in residence to The Corporation of Yaddo (2000), Sculpture Space, Inc. (1997), Millay Colony for the Arts (1995) all located in NY State, Anam Cara Artists Colony, County Cork, Ireland (2001), Foundation Valparaiso, Spain (2003) and The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where she had the pleasure of being an artist in residence along with Charles W. Goolsby in 2002. (1) Merleau-Ponty’s work is cited and deconstructed throughout; Drew Leder; The Absent Body; The University of Chicago Press, 1990.