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Subterrain


by Gordon McConnell
Ucross Foundation Art Gallery, Wyoming   2001

The story behind Joan Perlman's paintings and drawings is one of the most compelling and romantic I've heard in a long time. The idea of dreaming a place as elemental and alien as Iceland and then setting out to see it and to know it certainly appeals to my poetic imagination. Perlman's paintings and drawings are marvelous and evocative in their intricacies. Conceived as abstractions, the works are invented more than observed, discovered as they are formed of pastel or painted media, bounded in scale only by the limits of the pictorial rectangle. They imply intimacy with an incomprehensibly vast terrain. These are solitary vistas, frankly handmade, coaxed from invisibility with delicate authority. Apparently void of plant life and other figuration, these are landscapes that themselves are alive, understood from inside and out -- molten, steaming, windswept, enveloping, and visceral.

Perlman's paintings and drawings are made of alchemical admixtures and meaningful correspondences between fluid fire and airy stone, superheated vapor and arctic ice, cold daylight and scorching earth, pastel and paint, flesh and blood, mind and spirit. Probably the notion of being held up as a standard bearer of the northern romantic tradition or an exponent of the abstract sublime is too problematic for an artist working in today's art world to readily accept, but I see renewed in this work, without nostalgia or sentiment, a deeply felt connection to the embattled powers of the natural world, the annihilating vortex, the implacable forces behind the mask of existence.