Published in the Herald Times Sunday, May 11 2006.
Artist crafts poetic metaphors from use of rugged materials
by Thom Rhea
Special to the Herald Times
Tamar Kander is an abstract painter who uses the most rugged materials to create the most delicate, poetic effects. To her oil and acrylic pigments, she adds construction materials such as cement and joint compound to build rich, dense surfaces.
She uses clear acrylic binders like glazes to add collage elements or to generate depth in her layers. Kander opened a new show of recent paintings at the Ruschman Gallery in Indianapolis that runs through June 3. Her paintings are also regularly featured at Relish.
The poetry in her work results from metaphors generated by the paintings that recall other experiences of space and light in nature. Kander uses a landscape convention as a primary metaphor.
Nearly all the paintings have a horizontal orientation and, in many, a kind of horizon line across the middle can be discerned. "I am always surprised when people can't see the landscape in my work, even though it is abstract," Kander said. "I have one painting (in the show) called "Frozen Lake" that seems to me like just what I saw out my window."
Perhaps because of the use of building materials, the city is also a natural metaphor, with a reference to sun-baked, weathered walls. She often shows how, as in "hill City," out of great emptiness, a void is quickened and forms take shape, like an ancient city looming out of a great expanse of desert. Also like an ancient city, the many layers in Kander's paintings are contested, struggled for and buried, but always haunted by history. The history, in its genesis, can be personal as a dream. On the canvas, the history becomes embodied in layers of paint that build up and overtake earlier forms, never quite extinguishing the vestiges.
The vestiges in "Beach with Red" are the many traces of the earliest bright blue ground that show through layers of fleshy orange and red. Kander exhibits a tension in her work between meditations on works of man ("Hill City," "Hidden City"), around which gather the gloom of history, and images of nature that are much more placid.
"Beach with Red" shows a glassy surface, without a gathering of detail or deep move into space. "While reviewing scans of my work, I saw some details of a larger painting on a computer screen," Kander said. "I thought, 'That's the effect I want.' So I started using larger brushes and making larger marks."
Other abstract painters like Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline used bold strokes (or drips) against a simple ground, emphasizing the action of the gesture in a macho way.With her profound use of paint layers, Kander draws irresistible associations with skin, particularly when her surface suggests skeins or veils. She treats her surfaces so tenderly she seems to express an experience of her own body. The exemplary paintings in this regard come from the "Chiron Series" ("Shift" and "Interval").
"I had a dream about a car accident I had when I was younger," Kander said. "My injuries wouldn't heal correctly. So I began the 'Chiron' series as a meditation on wounds." The classical reference is to Chiron, the last centaur, unintentionally killed by a poisoned arrow strung by Hercules, his fondest pupil.
The painting speaks to the vulnerability and fragility of the body, the fear that surrounds wounds that don't heal. Art offers what consolation it can, but the work requires an artist willing, with great compassion, to meditate on her own intractable psychic wounds.