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Water in the Desert

Janet Bruce

Water in the Desert

Janet Bruce

One striking quality of Water in the Desert at Les Yeux du Monde gallery is its presentation as an installation. As you cross the gallery’s threshhold, you feel immersed in hue, form, mood and atmosphere. The theme itself is a convolution: in the desert you lack water, yet your perception is tricked by the mirage. Here, perception is explored formally and emotionaly. The ephemeral is experienced spatially as depth is alluded to and then veiled or obfuscated with blotches of paint. Drips and grids of squares rendered as lines or blocks of paint result in an interesting tension between the illusion of space and flatness. Perception also comes into play in Bruce’s use of serialization of form and variation. The title piece, Water in the Desert, a 90" x 80” composite of 12 rectangular elements, alludes to Arthur Schoenberg’s Twelve-tone technique, which ascribes equal importance to all 12 notes of the chromatic scale. Relating to seriality, the group of five paintings, DCAAAEB, BEAAACD, DEGGGBA, Acqua Nel Deserto I and Acqua Nel Deserto II offer contrapuntal visual approaches to the square composition. An improvisational discourse is suggested in the play between the calmness of the Acquas and the dynamism of the multiples. At the focal center of the animated works is the dazzling BEAAACD. Connected to its grid is a simulcra of fog, the flat gray surface obscuring what is underneath, while the sparkling white has the glistening shimmery quality of a heat mirage.

Other paintings have tangible references—a window, a tree—but landscape is largely absent except as an abstract idea that hovers over the work, providing the inspiration and a sense of place that is conveyed. Studio Path, painted at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, is a relatively simple composition with a curious power. There’s something about the geometry and the traces of grid structure within the arch that confers gravitas to the piece. Sei Aromi di Dio, 2017, is a work of notable lightness and also weight. Bruce achieves the effect through her choice of materials and the manner in which she places her mark on the surface. To achieve the lightness, she pairs the transparency of watercolor with a good deal of negative space, “erasing” the paint in areas by spraying water on it. The combination of drawn line and brushstroke creates a dynamic syncopation. The looping lines suggest handwriting that’s been superimposed on gauzy stripes of paint. Traces of this line are embedded in the paintings Materiali/ Imateriali and Diversi filoni di magia, the titles of which come from a poem Bruce wrote while at the Artestudio Ginestrelle residency in Italy. Looking at this work one sees a complex formal language that include elements that are reminiscent of Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Twombly and Pat Steir. Bruce incorporates these ingredients with assurance, folding them in with her personal artistic vocabulary to make them wholly her own. - Sarah Sargent

Threshold, 2016. Oil on canvas 18 x 24�

Paessaggio Umbra, 2017. Oil on canvas 72 x 60�

Materiali, immateriali, 2017. Oil on canvas 66 x 56�

Sei Aromi di Dio, 2017. Watercolor and watercolor stick on canvas 66 x 56�

Diversi filoni di magia, 2017. Oil and oil stick on canvas 66 x 56�

Water in the Desert, 2016. Acrylic and tape on canvas and foam core 90 x 80 �

Departure, 2016. Oil on canvas 30 x 24"

Il cielo in serata, 2016. Oil on canvas 30 x 24�

E Pluribus, 2017. Oil on canvas 60 X 60�

Tree / Palimpsest, 2016. Oil on canvas 48 x 36�

Aqua Nel Deserto I, 2016. Oil on canvas 24 x 24"

DCAAAEB, 2016, Oil on canvas 20 x 20”

BEAAACD, 2016, Oil on canvas 20 x 20”

DEGGGBA, 2016, Oil on canvas 20 x 20”

Aqua Nel Deserto II, 2016. Oil on canvas 24 x 24"

Palimpsest, 2016, Encaustic on wood 10 x 10�

Vast Enclosure, 2016. Oil stick on linen 40 x 40�

Studio Path, 2016. Oil stick on linen 40 x 40�

Reverberation, 2016. Oil on canvas 18 x 24�

Janet Bruce was born in Washington, DC and is a painter living in NYC. For three decades she has explored the intersection between abstraction and representation with regard to light and place. Her paintings are in numerous private and public collections. Sarah Sargent is the art columnist for Virginia Living magazine where she is a contributing editor. She also writes about contemporary art for Artillery magazine (“Killer Text on Art”) based in Los Angeles where she is affiliated with its New York Desk. Raised in New York City, after graduating from Wellesley College, Sargent received her M.A. in Art History from Columbia University. After working for several galleries in New York, Sargent headed up Second Street Gallery, a nonprofit contemporary art space in Charlottesville known to feature outstanding emerging artists from around the country (1993–1999). An avid collector of contemporary art, Sargent lives in Charlottesville; her blog is

Published in conjunction with the exhibition Water in the Desert: New Paintings 30 March – 7 May 2017 Les Yeux du Monde Gallery 841 Wolf Trap Road Charlottesville VA 22911 All rights reserved. Publication © 2017 All artwork © by Janet Bruce Essay © by Sarah Sargent Design © by Misako Ono

Water in the Desert by Janet Bruce  

Published in conjunction with the exhibition Water in the Desert: New Paintings 30 March – 7 May 2017 Les Yeux du Monde Gallery 841 Wolf Tra...