Vitality Seized
Suzaan Boettger
 
Clusters of softly glistening grapes, pears shimmering in darkened atmospheres, glowing peach spheres, and gleaming apples — fruits of knowledge and seduction — were the radiances that Carmela Kolman brought forth during the mid-period of her professional career. With objects isolated against fields in muted hues, these compositions offered minimalist evocations of the traditional genre she excelled at — still life. When shown after the Great Recession following the 2007 market crash, the provocative juxtapositions of sensuality and restraint spoke to conflicted desires in a period of political flux and fiscal instabilities. As the economy recovered, her small, richly hued orbs splayed across white planes played with oscillating associations of juicy pieces of fruit and Tutti-Frutti candies. But twinned to the gumdrops’ brightness were shadows.
 
Carmela was a well-respected New York painter (RISD BFA;Yale MFA) who regularly exhibited in solo and group shows in the trendiest precincts of Manhattan art galleries and elsewhere. She actively participated in the artists’ group devoted to still life painting, Zeuxis, with whom she showed her work throughout the United States. As did Italian modernist still life painter Giorgio Morandi in his judicious arrangements of faintly hued vessels, her paintings demonstrate her fine attention to spatial juxtapositions for dynamic adjacent shapes and the potency of negative spaces. Rather than the customary tabletop heterogeneity, Carmela signaled plenitude by the richness of individual objects. 
 
Having focused for a decade on fruit, Carmela turned her attention to serpentine strings of luminous beads and close-ups of rose blossoms loosely brushed. Flowers, associated in historical visual culture with nature and transient beauty, have always been signs for the female.  Carmela’s extreme close-ups of bouquets present them in a scale so exaggerated that they call up — and invite — burying one’s face in petals and inhaling the aroma. The jewelry continued the visual duality of vivid spheres loosely arranged and projecting from flattened grounds, making more explicit the feminine allure of the luscious globules. Both subjects summon sensations of abundance, fertility, and glamour.
 
A phase of her compositions’ compressed recession and expansive space abstract the tabletop arrangements into modernist fields dotted with color. The orbs of fruit and circles of beads are often seen against ambiguous grounds that are neither table nor wall — in effect, presenting a modernist flattening of space against which they visually project. Often she subverted the traditional frontal perspective onto tabletop arrangements — the cornerstone of traditional still life — by viewing her objects from immediately above. The hovering aerial viewpoint generates an intimate proximity to the arrays.
 
Sometimes these grounds are in a subtly grayed or toned hue, both spatially and emotionally recessive. More frequently, contradicting the vivacity of individual objects modeled in illusionistic volumes, are cast shadows so prominently shaped and strongly colored that their presence becomes a crucial compositional element and determinant of the images’ affect.  The mood becomes deliberate vivaciousness against a ground of melancholy. 
 
Carmela’s pictures evoke a fervent joie de vivre, the desire to seize light — to literally “take pleasure” from the act of grasping and portraying its illumination of beautiful natural objects and organic forms. Of course these were in part responses to her delayed acquisition of clear sight, albeit in only one eye, at age 23. And the shadows conjure her congenital, always looming, Marfan syndrome.  Her passion for pictorial brightness to forestall the fall of darkness displays her energy, fortitude, and hope. Together these elements made her, and her paintings, admirable and memorable. Carmela’s images are vital because she knew darkness, and her striking fusions arouse attention, reflection, and gratitude for their encompassing beauty. 
 
 
Suzaan Boettger, an art historian, critic, author, and lecturer in New York City, and Carmela first met when Dr. Boettger selected Carmela’s work for inclusion in the exhibition she guest curated for the Trabia Gallery, SoHo, on view in February 1990,”Radiant Fruit: Iconic Still Life.”
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