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Joan Perlman: Topography
Sonoma State

by Sandy Thompson
Artweek   January 1998

Both of the gallery's current exhibitions Joan Perlman: Topography and Catherine Lee: The Alphabet Series are personal, bodies of work that explore relationships with the earth and artistic journeys.

Perlman's non-objective landscape paintings are seductively austere; almost galactic in spatial reference and emotional content. Large (54 x 54 inches to 6 x 12 feet) -- her largest scale to date -- they are the culmination of five years of dreaming about Iceland. The dreams were persistent enough to send Perlman on a journey to that country in 1995. There she found a unique landscape, desolate beauty, and extraordinary stillness. She felt an "aesthetic affinity" with the place. Her palette -- cigarette-smoke-in-a-closed-room blue, jaundiced yellow, macadam gray -- is haunting and particularly evocative of the landscapes that confronted her. Employing graphite and pastel on paper, she creates a luscious waxy surface that of itself engenders a sense of mystery, of what might exist beyond. A disquieting sense of isolation is engendered by the sense of a particular, yet esoteric, location.

It's not often we get to step into our dreams. Perlman's artistic search, though, unlike her Icelandic experience, is about process, not conclusions; that journey has just begun.