March / April 2014
Ida Schmulowitz Landscapes
Hoxie Gallery, Westerly Public Library, Westerly RI
New landscapes by the well-established Providence painter Ida Schmulowitz were recently shown in the Westerly Public Library Gallery, a boon for this corner of the state. Comprised of ten large (six by eight feet) oil paintings made out-of-doors and two gouaches of the view from the artist’s studio, the exhibition provides a potent demonstration. It shows what landscape art can achieve with a practitioner whose steadfast observation and passionate focus match her sense of color and expressiveness with the brush.
In 1983 Schmulowitz began to paint one particular scene from the same vantage point, Providence’s India Point pedestrian bridge over-looking Interstate 95. Hauling her supplies to the site, she would unroll her canvas and paint the urban vista, a highway in the foreground bisecting Providence. At the end of the session she dragged the wet canvas along the street back to her studio and came to believe that the drips and dinks that might (and did) occur along the way enhanced the painting’s texture. The textures of the works shown were rich with incident and the build-up of thinned paint applied in layers with loose brushstrokes.
Things change. Light changes. Often paintings begun in one season are completed months later. The view changed, too, when Rhode Island undertook a huge highway reconstruction project. The interstate was expanded and an old pedestrian bridge removed. Schmulowitz painted the view of the construction site and another view nearby. In 2008 when the pedestrian bridge reopened, “everything had changed,” the artist said. She responded by starting a new series based on the altered view.
Her practice of painting urban scenes out-of-doors throughout the changing seasons and times of day has served this artist well for 30 years. Does the stubbornness of this manner of painting sound familiar? It detracts not at all from these intelligent paintings with their expansive space, light, and vibrant color to nod to distinguished precursors, Monet and Cézanne. Her landscapes place Schmulowitz within a great tradition of modern painting, with no sense of a runaway Romanticism or glorification of nature. The artist’s vision is informed by her world’s urban structures and is neither pastoral nor inclining towards the sublime. The paintings’ lack of pretense in impressive.