Negotiating the Realist/Abstract Divide
I cannot seem to break the gossamer veil that lies between
realism and abstraction and I am forced to search for meaning
between the two states of consciousness.
~ John Cerlienco
Although Parker Wittenberg's paintings appear quite realistic on first viewing, there are in fact many abstract passages in each composition. Like Australian painter John Cerlienco, Wittenberg creates meaning by straddling the "gossamer veil" suspended between the two modes of representation. She portrays people, their immediate environments, and the larger world they occupy. Her portraits present individuals moving through lives of radiant color. Her landscapes are precise and detailed, with lush passages of sumptuous paint.
Another Australian painter, Janine Parsons, asserts, "It is ironic that to achieve convincing realism, one must think in the most abstract ways... To do otherwise is to fall into the trap of seeing only what is expected." Wittenberg escapes the "expected" by using unexpected perspectives: angular corners of the seashore (Desert Garden, Malibu), close-ups of roughly textured stones in forest hollows (Autumn Symphony with Chinese Taihu Stones), and depictions of people in front of geometrically gridded backgrounds (James Wong, Chinatown). Sometimes, these backgrounds are reduced to primary colors, red, yellow, and blue (Red). According to Los Angeles painter Robert Reynolds, "a representational painting is only as good as its abstract components." That being the case, these paintings are quite good indeed. Their excellence also has to do with the fact that Wittenberg, like Vincent van Gogh and other painters who are labeled "expressionist," uses nonlocal color and somewhat distorted forms to heighten the emotive impact of her work.
Also like van Gogh, Wittenberg insistently reveals the medium with which she constructs her representational views. Thick paint is slathered over fabric folds, the coarse texture of stones is reproduced in impasto, shadows fall away into delicious blends of non-local color. This artist is a painter's painter, one who loves the materiality of her medium as much as any message generated by the content. On each canvas, the formal elements (color, shape, light, texture, space) contribute to and amplify the message.
Viewers of Parker Wittenberg's work enter a richly pigmented, elegantly inhabited world of colorful intensity. The aesthetic pleasures of her paintings emanate gracefully, rewarding viewers again and again in multiple encounters with the art.
-Betty Ann Brown