” A painting is worth looking at when I feel an intense curiosity about every decision that has gone into its making.”

At The Silo Raphael Rubinstein writes about Shirley Jaffe’s paintings. “While so many contemporary works of art seem to develop through closing
off choices or sticking to a initial plan, Jaffe proceeds by keeping
every option open until the last possible moment. And even once the
painting is finished, a sense of dizzying complexity and joyous
invention sustain this openness. For me, I usually know a painting is
worth looking at when I feel an intense curiosity about every decision
that has gone into its making. That�s how I feel in front of Jaffe�s
work: tantalized by countless questions, patiently waiting for the
painting to �answer� them, even as new curiosity-inducing relationships
keep surging up, prolonging to apparent infinity this perfect fusion of
thinking and looking.”

Shirley Jaffe, The Gray Phantom, 2009, oil on canvas, 80 by 78 inches. Installation at Galerie Gerta Meert, Brussels, 2011-2012.

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  1. I mean no offense to Mr. Rubinstein, but there is no way one can know by looking at a painting whether the artist closed off many choices when developing it, or left every option open. Other than talking to the artist, one can't know whether the piece was entirely preconceived, or created entirely improvisationaly. Also, his example, the later work of Ms Jaffe, is ironic in the she has obviously closed of many options in her paintings: painterliness, open form, figuration, perspective and many others.

  2. There is a new yorker cartoon in which a guy has a room full of canvases with single squares centered on each one. On his easel is a canvas with a circle in the middle of it. He excitedly turns over his shoulder and yells "Nancy!"
    It only matters in the context of the rest of his work. I think Jaffe pulls this relationship into each of her works, even though it is also apparent beyond them. So we can clearly see all the things she has said no to, and can more or less identify the idiom in which she works. but why I like her paintings is that she enlivens that idiom. Not only by using more white space than Stuart Davis, but by refusing a certain compositional predictability one can see in Lasker. All those shifts in scale, rhythm, character and proximity of shapes. They seem anti-gestalt. And all those little painterly passages. She sets up visual parameters and then disrupts them. All within the Shirley Jaffe world, true.

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