By JONATHAN GOODMAN April, 2019
Martin Weinstein has been part of the New York art world for decades; he and Tereza Liszka began the art organization Art in General years ago on Walker Street. But his paintings are very different from his downtown surroundings--his family owns a home with extensive gardens in Croton-on-Hudson, and his paintings reflect an unabashedly romantic affection for the landscape of the Lower Hudson Valley, its low-lying mountains, open sky and clouds, and the broad expanse of the river itself, as well as the flora of the region. The title, “Beyond a Day,” refers to Weinstein’s practice of returning to the same site days, weeks, or even years after beginning a painting to finish it. His work is idiosyncratic in its facture; the views and foliage and flowers he paints are rendered on acrylic sheets that line up, one behind the other in groups of three or four, which are then enclosed in a transparent plastic box. Strikingly, the layers of imagery settle very well into a single point of view.
Much good landscape painting owes its accomplishment to specificity, and Weinstein’s art succeeds as well because of its particularity of site and the nature found there. April-May, 3 Years (2018) (the “3 Years” refers to the length of time he spent finishing the painting) presents an extended view of the Hudson River to the hills on its other side, with a sky filled with thick cumulus clouds painted a slate gray and blue above. In the foreground, the viewer sees a broad spray of white blossoms on the left, with dark green shrubs and bushes and a bit of luminous green meadow leading down to the water. The work is actually quite complex, not only in its forms and color tonalities, but also in the structural intricacies of its outlook. This happens in part because of the layered imagery, derived from the simple technology of the painted plastic planes arranged in sequence. The complexity of space is prominent in this work, and is a function and strength of Weinstein’s work generally.
Hydrangea and River, 2 Years (2018) offers a closeup of the cone-shaped flower, presented here as a single, tightly knit group of forms that cover the lower two-thirds of the painting. While a small group of daisies can be seen at the bottom of the composition, the field of the work is entirely dominated by the white-and-green hydrangea blossoms, whose bell- or tree-like shapes form a dense presence surprisingly lyrical in its details. The dark-blue river, low elevations, and lighter-blue sky and clouds can be seen beyond; the extensive, expanded landscape offers both a thematic and visual alternative to the particularities of the flowers Weinstein has painted. It is more than difficult to paint a landscape with innovative fervor today, but the artist has done so. Weinstein, like any painter working with this kind of imagery, takes the risk of not moving beyond the centuries of such work before him. But it is clear that the paintings are not only heartfelt, they are also imagistically contemporary in their ability to take a well-known view and display it with excitement and a close-to-visionary intensity.
The third, and last, painting to be discussed is called Winter Mornings, 2 Years (2018). The scene seems almost naif: three trees, with thin, extended branches cover the snow, occupy the center of the painting, from the far left to the center. In the foreground a blanket of snow asserts a small tract of white leading up to the trees. Beyond the leafless trees is a layer of brown, wooden shrubbery and growth, and beyond that, once again, is the blue of the river, with dark-blue hills near its further edge. The by-now-familiar blue sky, filled with heavy clouds on the right, takes over the upper register of the painting. It is a simple enough scene, one profoundly familiar to us in general if not in particular, but Weinstein manages, once again, to invest the point of view of with a lyricism we no longer often encounter in current art.
As indicated above, working within so heavily an established tradition as landscape carries the risk of excessive convention; we have seen such arrangements of nature so often and so long. It is fine to work within such a tradition, but to be successful, the painter must also find ways of creating an overtly current scenario. In this show, it is hard to pinpoint how the artist does this, but in fact originality does occur. Maybe it has to do with the genuine affection Weinstein shows for a beautiful region he has known for decades; and by the combination of detail and a long view. Whatever his motivation, Weinstein’s art indicates a profound understanding of the Lower Hudson Valley, in interesting ways a continuation of an imagery developed by the Hudson River School two centuries ago. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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