October 20, 2013

Art review: Jeff Epstein and Henry Isaacs

Painting still has a lot to say about how we see

By Daniel Kany

I was struck by something Jeff Epstein said about his work during the art walk. When I told Epstein I wanted to compare his work with the picture I saw in the paper, he explained that he consciously manipulates the distinction between what you see in his works in person as opposed to reproductions.

click image to enlarge

“Subaru with Hosta at NIght” by Jeff Epstein.

Courtesy of Caldbeck Gallery

“The Space Between” by Jeff Epstein.

Courtesy of Caldbeck Gallery

Additional Photos Below



WHERE: Art House Picture Frames, 61 Pleasant St., Portland

WHEN: Through Nov. 30

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

INFO: arthousepictureframes.com; 221-3443


WHERE: Gleason Fine Art, 545 Congress St., Portland

WHEN: Through Nov. 30

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Friday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

INFO: gleasonfineart.com; 633-6849

No one should be surprised that a painter is concerned both with easy-to-see-and-reproduce graphic qualities and subtle surface textures that can only be seen in person.

Yet, from a conceptual standpoint, art rarely puts in play the difference between seeing it on a computer screen, then on a postcard and then in person. Moreover, nothing can handle such an experiential/perceptual range with the refinement, subtlety or intellectual back end of painting.

Epstein’s paintings are small and executed with a confident hand. They feature low key images of suburban or rural domestic landscapes: a birdhouse, the artist’s blue Subaru parked by hostas, a view between a house and shed, a half-mowed lawn and so on.

Epstein’s expertly energized marks are impressively economical and varied: drawing back through the oil with the handle point of the brush, paint-clearing slashes of the palette knife, winding strokes, staccato rhythms and more – all in the service of well-textured clarity.

I first saw “Sam’s Car” printed. Parked in a dark field under a starry, starry night, a humble sedan plays the part of a lantern – its interior is flooded with light that it spills into the field around it. Such a beacon leads to graphic clarity, but it also hints of an untold narrative within: Our interest draws us in to look closely and read the marks of the painting.

“Half-mowed Lawn” also features a vehicle and the sense of subtle narrative. The ride-on mower with unfinished business leaves us with a contemporary landscape and a study in contrasts. The cut undergrowth is scratchy chartreuse compared to the lush green grass. The textures differ in a way that can only be seen in person. And this is true of Epstein’s brush handle drawing as well: He tends to render man-made things by pulling the handle of his brush back through the oil to create chiseled white lines – which pop most notably on a computer screen.

“The Space Between” is a tall, slender panel peering between a rural house and shed towards a partially-seen car and tree. While the image funnels your eye through the narrow space, the textures of the two buildings act like flat screens we must look past (like, maybe, the media of print and screen?). While they look the same, the two weather-wizened buildings are painted quite differently by combinations of loose strokes over knife work, removal processes (paper towel?) and even sanding. Such processes make you re-think their seemingly freshly-made appearance;

on close inspection, they are well-considered paintings.

With his focus on self-aware legibility, Epstein is consciously responding to the contemporary viewer whose sensibilities are formed by digital photography, postcards, online and print newspaper publication no less than standing in front of paintings.

We associate seeing a painting in person with a corporal experience of scale, brushstroke and texture but one thing that cannot be translated in a static image is the way pigments interact with shifting light. Epstein’s “Shepherd’s Hook with Telephone Pole,” for example, seems simple enough at first glance: pink flowers, green growth, blue sky and a puce pole. But as you move around a painting, it’s easier to notice light qualities of different pigments – and I quickly counted at least six different greens. RGB and CYMK processes (screen and print) simply can’t deliver that kind of (sculptural) information about paintings. 

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

“Bluebird Nest Box April” by Jeff Epstein.

Courtesy of Gleason Fine Art

click image to enlarge

“Path to Bunker Cove” by Henry Isaacs.

Courtesy of Gleason Fine Art

click image to enlarge

“View to Mt. Desert from the Marsh,” by Henry Isascs.

Courtesy of Gleason Fine Art

click image to enlarge


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