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Sandra Gottlieb's Photography Bridges the Abstract and the Real

Painting and photography have a long and interesting history. With its advent over a century and a half ago, the latter was perceived by some as a medium that might replace the former. That did not happen, but what photography did do for awhile was usurp some of painting's more documentary functions. This prompted some painters to seek more abstract avenues of expression. They went where they thought photography could not follow. Yet as early as 1907, Alfred Stieglitz was already beginning to emphasize abstract as well as sociological ideas in photographs such as "The Steerage," and by 1951 the aesthetic sophistication of the newer art form was so firmly established that The Museum of Modern Art mounted a landmark exhibition entitled "Abstraction in Photography."

The contemporary photographer Sandra Gottlieb draws heavily upon this avant garde photographic tradition in her exhibition "Beyond Horizons," which can be seen from June 1 through July 31, at World Fine Art Gallery, 511 West 25th Street, with a reception on June 11, from 6 to 8 PM.

"My pictures are a thin slice of space and time explored through scale, color, and simplicity of image, translating the world into a purely pictorial language of color, shape, and overall composition," Gottlieb states. "My interpretation leans toward the modernist movement using flat bands of color to create two-dimensional, near abstract images. The photographer's point of view can sharpen and even alter the perception of an image that is fleeting and transitory. Starting from what is complex, it is possible to reach what is simple and timeless."

Entering a gallery filled with Sandra Gottlieb's large color prints, one is put more in mind of painters such as Mark Rothko and Jon Schueler than of any other photographer. Like Rothko, she employs flat bands of color on the picture plane in her photographs of watery horizons meeting variegated areas of sky. And like Schueler, she exploits the abstract possibilities of light and color as they manifest at different hours of the day and night. While Gottlieb isolates these elements in nature rather than concocting them on canvas, the effect is every bit as painterly.

The horizon line is the most stable element in Gottlieb's compositions. The place where water or land mass meets sky is the metaphysical divide as well as the formal anchor of her pictures. Indeed, the factual component innate to photography adds an extra dimension to her formal stance. Minimal as her compositions may be, they originate in reality. There is a sense of the world looming within and beyond the forms that she selects to show us, and this lends her pictures the suggestion of a magnificence far beyond what the eye sees. The artist is free to focus on the unobstructed frontal view, denying perspective and pulling the subject forward, onto the literal two dimensional picture plane that photography shares with painting. Yet even as Gottlieb eschews spatial elusiveness, the shadow of allusion haunts her compositions, imbuing them with a poetry distinctly different from the subjective poetry of painting. For while Gottlieb's deliberately reductive angle of vision compels us to read her compositions abstractly, we are simultaneously aware of their reality. This duality imbues her pictures with tantalizing perceptual tensions. And to further complicate the matter, the element of "time," so integral to photography, is superimposed on space in her pictures (as she mentions in her artist's statement). We know that we are viewing a particular moment, already vanished, never to come again, which has been frozen and rendered immutable. Thus the mystery of time is married to the mystery of space, and the meaning deepens like the shadows in the clouds suspended so pregnantly over her watery expanses.

In one of Gottlieb's prints, broad bands of color in the sky above a low horizon line graduate from fiery orange, to deep purple, to luminous blue. In another, a higher blue horizon gives way to vibrant pink and gray violet hues possessed of a peculiarly somber majesty. In yet other recent photographs, Sandra Gottlieb focuses on the subtle streaks of color, tonal shifts, and cumulus shapes to be discerned in infinite stretches of sky, framing their magnificence with breathtaking adroitness. Her unerring eye for form and color enables her to achieve her stated goal of "push[ing] the limits of the tension between the real and the abstract to create a balance between sculptural form and natural sensuality."

Indeed, Sandra Gottlieb's unique contribution may very well be the stunning synthesis that she achieves between the naturalistic and experimental traditions of modern photography through her singularly austere yet passionate vision.

- Lawrence Downes, Gallery & Studio, June/July/August 2004
'The world of the working artist' Vol. 6 No. 5
Review; full page with 3/4 page image of "Sea Grass 2004"


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