© 2014 by Naomi Mendel

My work explores the moment in visual perception that precedes interpretation -- the moment when the world overwhelms the gaze with a barrage of disparate impressions that the mind will try to bring together into meaningful, conceptualized images. My paintings let the viewer’s gaze linger in this moment of indeterminacy, lose itself in a disassembled world.  

 

In my artistic process, I rely crucially on photography. I paint on the basis of one or more photos of my subject. This allows me to blend impressions from different perspectives into one painting. A photograph represents not only objects in the world but also captures the gaze that perceives them, at one moment in time. Focusing on a still photograph allows me to slip into abstract observation -- seeing a scene as colors, shapes and texture rather than discrete objects. Thus my approach to my subject is first of all formalistic. Since the aim is not to achieve an accurate imitation of the photograph but a scene falling apart into its atomic components, the process of making one painting takes several months and has the character of untying a knot or deciphering a riddle.

 

In my paintings of reflections on kitchen sinks, pots and utensils, I am fascinated by the materiality of the stainless steel and its distorting reflection. The world as reflected in these curved and crude looking glasses operates according to its own rules. These paintings play with the paradoxical relation between the reflecting surface in its tactile materiality and the vast ethereal spaces that appear to grow out of it. The space reflected -- my studio or living room -- suddenly appears with ceilings high like those of cathedrals. The sensation produced is exhilarating, as if I had found a secret back door to a parallel universe. In some of these paintings, the edges of the reflecting object are out of view, showing only the image reflected. In this way, the world trapped on the surface is liberated, allowed to be a world in its own right, independent of the object on whose surface it originated.

 

In other works, I choose subjects to which I have an ambivalent attitude, such as food wrapped in plastic, or trash washed up on a beach. Here my formalistic approach, with its happy complacency, stands in sharp contrast to the object depicted. On the one hand, the paintings present nature violated: organisms maimed and appearing to be asphyxiated by plastic bags. On the other hand, the plastic packages appear in their beautiful shining materiality, with their pleasantly exact angles and soft, regular folds. Chicken legs and watermelons in bags thus appear in my rendering to melt into the manmade material, achieving an assimilation between nature and artifice. Through my process of disassembling objects into colors and shapes, the objects are reborn on the canvas as enigmatic, fantastical new creatures. A plastic bag in a pond, for example, takes on the look of a magnificent jellyfish. The works are thus resigned to the subjugation of organic life by the heavy hand of human industry. Indeed, the immersion into the surface of things offers a refuge from the distressing situation of the environment in our age. But as a result of being overridden by aestheticization, the ethical concerns act all the more forcefully on the subconscious. In the midst of gazing at the beautiful surface, an uneasiness comes back to haunt the viewer.

2010 - present

2010 - present