Sylvia Fein’s solo exhibition, Surreal Nature at Krowswork, a collaborative project between the gallery, directed by Jasmine Moorhead, and independent curator and writer Travis Wilson, of Wilson Art Service comes at the heels of a recent exhibition, In Wonderland at the Los Angeles County Museum in 2012, where Fein’s artwork as well as several other Surrealist women artists from the 1940s and 50s working in North America was re-presented for a contemporary audience. What is readily apparent in Fein’s solo exhibition, as well as many exhibitions such as this one, is not only 94-year-old Fein’s life’s work, spanning over seventy years and also her contemporary work, are particularly significant as they show the resiliency and reinvention of the creative human spirit as well as the the breadth and multifaceted nature of the artistic process.
In her most active years among the avant-garde group of the Midwest alongside contemporaries Marshall Glasier, Karl Priebe, John Wilde, Gertrude Abercrombie, and Dudley Huppler, Fein’s painting was considered particularly radical with at times extraordinary imagery that pushed the definition of Surrealism and feminist themes. With an intended open narrative, her work focused on complex issues surrounding absence and longing, which was especially pertinent during World War II. In many ways perhaps a reaction to this deeply troubling time in American history and the gravity of the situation, Fein seems to have eschewed the oft masculine-connoted destructive world warfare and the highly gestural action painting and Abstract Expressionism contemporary with her work, and emphasized a return to the often feminine-connoted magical, natural earthly powers, and the sanctuary offered within that.
Her recent paintings from the early part of the 21st century are also on view at Krowswork. After a more than two-decade break from painting to write two books, Heidi’s Horse and First Drawings: Genesis of Visual Thinking, Fein began a series of works surrouding eye imagery that recalls her earlier Surrealist work, but the open narrative and its characters has been reduced to singular, and therefore quite intensive and perhaps more contemporary feeling in the immediacy of images in a far more image-saturated world from the 1950s. The eye either exists within a void, and its pupil filled with magical figures and natural forms, or is integrated into a composition of a swirling storm of color and abstracted movement. The exhibition also includes a simple but powerful suite of five paintings depicting trees created in homage to her husband, Bill who passed away last year. These grand majestic trees, formed by what look like smaller trees or accumulated branches, form ethereal portals into other worlds that are flooded with light and holding promise.
Sylvia Fein continues to paint, and stalwartly defines herself as a contemporary artist as she paints and accumulates new works to her oeuvre to the present day; she does not accept in any terms “Surreal Nature” be defined as a retrospective. Her work, as well as her artist life for over fifty years, its obstacles and triumphs both influence and inspiration, remarks Sylvia Fein as an example of an artist resolved to her passion.
Sylvia Fein, “Surreal Nature” will be on view at Krowswork 480 23rd Street through February 22, 2014