Alla Broeksmit paintings
The Screen Show at Farnsworth Art Museum (Maine)
February 9 - September 22, 2019
By CHARLENE STEVENS, June 2019
Thumbnail photograph credit: Monika Drzewicz
The Screen Show at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine is a juried exhibition of six contemporary works of art displayed alongside two early 20th-century folding screens from the Farnsworth collection. The latter pair—the eight-panel Manship Toasting the Angels (1923) and a three-panel oil on canvas painting by Carroll Thayer Berry—have served as a departure point for this exhibition of contemporary interpretations of the screen form.
Folding screens were particularly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and typically served as room dividers or as barriers behind which their owners could dress or undress out of sight. Beyond their functional dimension, such screens have also been the basis for artistic experimentation. Prominent European and American artists, architects and designers—including James McNeill Whistler, Thomas Dewing, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Thomas Hart Benton, Donald Deskey, Ansel Adams, Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Rauschenberg and David Hockney—are among many who have explored the form of the folding screen.
Alla Broeksmit’s work Midway is from a series entitled COMPASSES from her MFA Thesis Exhibition at the New York Studio School in 2017. The series incorporates forms and symbolism from the artist’s memories, especially from her childhood and the journey from the Ukraine to the United States. Distant memories like these are not always clear and crisp; they often have blurred edges. Memories can bleed into each other, creating clusters based on a common element. They can also focus in on a singular detail while everything that surrounds it falls away to make that detail the only thing left. They are not always based on the visual. The olfactory and the tactile often take precedence. The visual can be a sketch, a suggestion without clean lines or clear boundaries. Sometimes those memories appear as if behind the veil or a layer of the fog of time.
Broeksmit’s colors recall faded Italianate frescoes of the Renaissance or earlier, pigments ground into plaster half a millennium ago or more that somehow manage to persist despite the ravages of time. Broeksmit mixes her own pigments as the old masters did in the age before paint tubes, giving vibrant piles of colored dust permanence and meaningful form. The painting’s four-panel folding screen format resembles that of a Renaissance altarpiece, albeit without a central panel from which the others could swing away. This composition is decentralized, not focused on any central point but on the relations between adjacent elements: panels mirror each other, fields of color blur and merge and flow, circular symbols wax and wane, coalesce and fade away.
The unique materiality of the handmade paint speaks to the themes of memory at play in the piece and in Broeksmit’s oeuvre in general. The fluid paint, less like oil and closer to watercolor, blurs the brushstrokes that would otherwise record the artist’s physical interaction with her work. The history of the painting’s facture is blurred and veiled by its own unique materiality. A viewer would be hard pressed to figure out how the painting was made just by looking at its surface. If Rosenbergian “Action Painting” positions a painting as “an arena in which to act”, a record of the interaction between maker and medium that led to a work’s creation, then Broeksmit’s work is not a precise play-by-play but a bleary recollection, something remembered in bits and pieces that cannot be placed in any precise order.
Born in Ukraine, Alla Broeksmit lives and works between London and New York. She has completed the Master Program (MFA) in painting at the New York Studio School, studying in the ateliers of Dean of the school Graham Nickson, and that of Judy Glantzman and Kyle Staver. Alla studied classical painting techniques at Heatherley’s and also received training in Italy, France, India, and Belgium.
The Screen Show will be on exhibit at The Farnsworth Art Museum until September 22, 2019. WM
view all articles from this author