Alexandra Wiesenfeld: The Uncharted Terrain of the Soul
“…the beauty of this world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” ~ Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
“Any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.” ~ Homer, The Iliad
Written by Gary Brewer
Art is born within the space between beauty and terror. It is the most deeply human expression of our astonishment at the fate we share; that this life will surely end and that the passion of our joys and sorrows will be forgotten. In art we carry forward the past and speak to the present and the future in visions and voices that arise from a mystical DNA; an existential need to create language to connect us through stories, images and symbols. Metaphors are the soul of our collective consciousness.
Alexandra Wisenfeld is a painter who seeks to dance at the brink of the known and the unknown. To abandon the illusion of control and to explore through uncertainty and vulnerability: painting as a method of divining the uncharted terrain of the soul.
In our long conversation she said to me, “A few years ago I realized that I had no control over life and that the paintings that I had been creating had to change to reflect this realization. Before, I used photographic images that anchored me and gave me the freedom to paint with a sense of command, a certainty that no longer feels true. My work changed. I no longer work from images but start to discover the image through an intuitive approach and in uncertain steps. It is a series of brush strokes and layers, each of which I doubt, then destroy, and rework until I am led through the painting, rather than doing the leading. I do not want them to illustrate my content, but to be an expression born through this process of destruction and discovery.” Painting allows us to access deep reservoirs of somatic memory that speak through the body- filtered through the imagination and intellect- to connect directly with the central nervous system of another. In the ambiguity of the half-light of reason, the shadow land between rational and irrational forces, Alexandra seeks to discover her poetic visions.
Foreign, strange, uncharted; words evoke images. They carry within them the etymological history of their origin and use, but words and syntax can also carry a sense of authority, command and dominance that can easily be used to manipulate meaning. We live in deeply divided times where the word, and its use as a tool of persuasion, can create schisms between people. Alexandra and I spoke in depth about the way that music, art, poetry and metaphor can have the power to affect the collective mind of people in a way that can bridge this divide and remind us of our shared humanity. It is a form of ritual; the need to be moved, deeply, by raw emotions – a Dionysian catharsis where one surrenders to the powerful emotions that can be expressed through art.
She said of her work, “I want to convey the sense of immanent apocalypse and the beauty of this moment. I do not know if we create a sense of the sacred through ritual or if everything is sacred and it is up to us to be able to see it. In my paintings I start from something that I sense but do not know. Through the process of painting I find its form eventually. Lately the paintings start with a circular form in the middle of the rectangle- a terrible composition to start with! In the end my paintings often have a stage set-like quality. I like the idea of painting as a stage for spectacle; for ritual, for the viewer and often the figures in the painting to stand witness to the exclusive moment or act. There are multiple stages in my compositions, as if there is always another, more real stage to be looking at.” These quicksilver streams of thought are channeled into a process of creation through fire. To tear down the known and to forge a new consciousness through will and submission is the ritual that has been enacted to realize these paintings. They are a form of heroic vulnerability, a willingness to let go and cross the river Styx and learn what the shuddering darkness can tell us.
Alexandra’s studio was filled with works in progress and a few paintings that were complete from her last solo exhibition at Klowden Mann Gallery in Los Angeles. The painting, they found ritual and order, but couldn’t see the real, was a powerful piece that reflected the imagistic epiphanies that she searches for. A cave, filled with a deep pool of water; veils of paint descending downward from the top; a moss-like plant or water cascading from the two boulders clinging precariously from above. It brought to mind a cenote from the Yucatan in Mexico, or some other subterranean world with a primordial pool of water. On either side were two abstracted guardians, in part a nod to Pollock’s Guardians of the Secret, that created a mysterious boundary which one had to traverse; a space between pure gestural abstraction and the verisimilitude of form. Indeed, Plato’s allegory of the cave has been a metaphoric leaping off point for her recent paintings, and in this painting the world of shadows- giving us the imperfect image of form- is present as well. The composition creates a stage, an arena of the imagination where the ritual of creation has already taken place; it stands empty, pregnant with potential to be filled with the musings of the beholder. Alexandra is a beautiful colorist, and through the fiery destruction of her process of creation, she arrives at lush chromatic hues: deep blues, turquoise, crimson reds, blacks and rich earth tones that convey a love for painting and the sensuality of this erotic medium. Erotic and Dionysian forces are in full play as she brings back her discoveries from these immersions into self, history and the deep cultural river of ideas that flow through our collective imaginations.
Art is a profound utterance; it expresses an essential quest for some kind of truth. It is not a truth that can be articulated through reason and the intellect, but one that touches the heart and soul of our human need to belong, to be loved and to touch another through the distance of time and space. To see great art that affects us deeply that is hundreds or thousands of year’s old- is- for a moment- to transcend the limits of this mortal coil.
Artists are searchers on an ancient journey. Alexandra Wiesenfield is searching through the shadow lands of the unknown, using the fire of imagination to discover hidden truths and bring them to light. It is in the half-light of imperfection that these truths are revealed, acknowledging that despite all of our powers of reason and imagination, we are like children looking out onto the starry mantle of the midnight sky and creating stories to share with an uncertain future.
Her paintings are meditations on the complex times in which we live, where solutions to existential problems seem within reach, but irrational forces of our human nature cloud our ability to see clearly. She said of her work, “I am trying to find a way through my painting to hold both the beauty and terror of this world in some kind of balance.” It is an ancient desire to reconcile these forces, one that cuts the heart asunder.