After working on Omega for three years, I got pretty familiar with seeing the painting in my skylit Brooklyn studio. So when the time to ship the painting out for it’s first showing came, I felt a little anxiety about how it would read in a different space, with different lighting, and to different eyes.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. One of the things that helps me quiet this feeling of uncertainty is good documentation. Usually this means taking the best photos I can afford of the artwork. But photographing Omega was challenging, both because of it’s size, and because of how much some very subtle changes in near black tones contribute to the drawing and meaning of the image. On top of that, every documentation photograph is a compromise on the way a painting is experienced in real life. Especially when seen under living, breathing natural light.
As an experiment, I decided to try video to document this painting.
Of my several attempts, this time lapse recording of the painting hanging in the studio on a October day comes closest to communicating how I felt about seeing the painting there. The flickering light in the video comes from fall clouds passing overhead. Seeing the video is obviously still not the same as visiting the painting in real life. But for me it is a nice reminder of what having the painting in the studio was like.
Widening represents a new chapter in Randall Stoltzfus’ painting. Originally trained as a landscape artist, Stoltzfus turned towards abstraction in the early 2000s as a way of engaging more directly with light as a subject. These early works, which were steeped in both a personal and historical relationship to his Mennonite upbringing, were often dark and monochromatic and built upon the polarity of light and shadow and complementary colors. As he developed his distinctive style of organic abstraction, which uses thousands of hand painted circles to build the larger image, his palette expanded and the landscapes and natural references of his earlier work began to fall further into the background. For Stoltzfus there are now two relationships at work in his paintings: a poetic relationship to the physical subject and a direct relationship the sensation of light itself.
While his work is rooted in tradition and a deep understanding of art history, his technique lends itself to a multiplicity of readings that are subjective to the viewer. Stoltzfus likens his style to “pulling focus” wherein the subject he is capturing is diffused to a point beyond direct representation and is rendered as halos of refracted light. In this, there is a historical relationship with the impressionist masters and pointillism in that he is painting a psychical depiction of the world. But, where the impressionists sought to convey a scene through blocks of color Stoltzfus renders his building blocks empty; rings of light that have no center and the resulting marks are free to play off each other and with the viewer’s eye. By doing this, not only does he open his work up for interpretation but he allows the viewer to see how each piece is constructed as the rings are stacked from the background to the foreground leaving a visible history of each mark made.
For Widening, Stoltzfus has created compositions that explode from within; bursts of light radiate from the center of the canvas and dissipate towards the edges. Omega, his largest work in two decades, takes the physical composition of a rainbow as its inspiration and expands the palette to encompass the visible spectrum. Each transition between the eight color bands is host to hundreds of minor movements built of his signature rings and the composition furthers the arc of a rainbow into a larger circle encompassing the shadowy silhouette of a tree. The light comes from behind the shadow but is not obscured by it; instead it is transformed into something larger and more vibrant than would have been visible otherwise. As Stoltzfus put it himself in a recent interview, “I am trying to make images that communicate that each of us is a part of something bigger. That we are cooperating whether we know it or not. And that light surrounds each one of us and whatever this is we are a part of.”