Ms. Blau’s Mindscapes
Everyone who is familiar with Tuscany – or Renaissance painting for that matter – will immediately get the inspiration for the better part of Ms. Blau’s oeuvre: she paints and sculpts cypress trees, ancient rounded hills, fields, grottoes, ruined temples and twisting wisteria vines with unabashed intensity using – if I may – a soft feminine palette (of gorgeous subtle pastel tones and shades) which is all her own.
She is the first to avow her art’s Italian foundations: “When I returned (in 1983) and took up residence in Rome at the Hotel Piccolo in via Chiavari, Anna, the padrona, entrusted me with the key to the roof and I would go up there and paint. Alone, looking out over the billowing sheets hung up to dry, in the midday sun my real life as a painter began. There was no more struggling or searching for the right colours; everything just began coming.”
One can easily imagine Georgia O’Keeffe experiencing a similar epiphany in a different landscape. Ms. Blau’s work has many things in common with O’Keeffe’s, starting with her ability to transform her subject matter into powerful almost abstract images that are highly sexual. We’ll get back to that. Such a feeling of genus loci, or spirit of a place, may seem anachronistic or overly romantic in the internet age, when the international art scene globe-trots insouciantly from one continent to another on a merry-go-round of art and commerce. But there are at least two obvious technical elements which give Ms. Blau’s work an universal allure, shifting the paintings into a free-floating psycho-sexual realm. The first is their luminosity – they emanate a granular light which is about as warm as you can get (remember that “midday sun”). Her canvases glow from within, as certain stones do; they deal you a spectrum of light like some color field paintings, such as Joan Mitchell’s, do. Ms. Blau manages to give Mitchell’s highly personal but ungranulated revelations of color the quiet Turner treatment, all while luxuriating in her signature soft palette (“no more struggling or searching for the right colours”).
The second is a related but more intuitive universal: Ms. Blau’s unpopulated landscapes couldn’t be more psychologically construed or more fully human. Maybe that’s why if “Romantic” comes to mind it’s an enticingly literary Romanticism almost absent from visual art today: Shelley with a dollop of Gustave Moreau, or Elizabeth Browning going pansexual: “I don’t plan it that way, but I eroticize everything, so obviously that purest expression of who I am comes out all about the duality and ebb and flow and re-joining of energies and bodies, the pulling away and coming together.” The point is that we are about as far from Tuscan postcards as it is possible to get and still render Cyprus trees.
And if you want to see underpinnings, try squinting at the paintings: it brings out their ovoidal geometry. Ms. Blau’s sculptures have in common with her paintings a focus on locus and both mediums compliment each other in revealing ways. They treat the same subjects, cypress trees and Tuscan landscapes. They want to be shown together. The sculptures, with their fairy-like mostly miniature mis-en-scene theatricality, bring out the hidden drama in the paintings, while the paintings proffer physical engagement more than they would without the sculptures. Ms. Blau calls her sculptures “altars,” and it is certainly intriguing to imagine these pieces as room-sized installations.
Ms. Blau’s work celebrates emotional, mythic and even mystical content, like contemporary Tuscan incarnations of a D.H. Lawrence moment: “I feel the readiness to be joined to that land, that sky, those hills as I would standing before a lover after a good bottle of prosecco on a lazy August afternoon.” No post-modern posturing for Ms. Blau, who says about her paintings, “They are highly Jungian; they are about nothing so much as the cosmic f@ck – the great mystic union. If you look you will see all kinds of cazzo e fica symbols…” Which brings us at last to Symbolism, Symbolism as both the dark side of Romanticism but also as a pared down and loaded image bank, an iconic vocabulary like Basquiat’s (with whom she shared a NYC decade) crowns. The sexuality here is undeniable, but quite indirect, and strangely enough it comes through Ms. Blau’s mastery of technique: finally these are very painterly paintings, even if their multi-dimensionality (“push-pull”) would have given Clement Greenberg labyrinthitis. Once again Georgia O’Keeffe comes to mind; take a look at O’Keeffe’s Blue and Green Music, from 1921, for example, or her No. 13 Special from 1916-17, a charcoal on paper drawing. But it is her flower paintings that resonate with Ms. Blau’s work most fully, and that is certainly because both painters are intentionally sensual and sexually driven. Ms. Blau keeps her vision fixed firmly on the essential elements in her painting and sculpture, renders her vision with talent and passion, and articulates her art without hesitation: “All the landscapes are portraits of my beloved, and I paint them in an erotic foment.” Sublime.
1. All quotes from a letter to the author written on January 22, 2010. Richard Dailey Editor-in-chief Afterart News Paris France Feb. 11, 2011