Seeing — Shirley Jaffe



Shirley Jaffe

Past: January 19 → March 2, 2013

Seeing is the fourth exhibition by Shirley Jaffe in its Parisian gallery, after the shows in 1999, 2001 and 2008.

These six paintings from 2012, on view here for the first time, represent the latest and fullest development of the coherent visual themes that the artist has been exploring for some fifty years now.

It was in 1963–64 that Shirley Jaffe began developing a visual language inspired by her immediate urban environment, a lexicon of colours and forms that she has developed and enriched continuously ever since.

Based on the idea of a movement as the starting point, Jaffe assembles signs within the frame of the canvas, tempering their individual energies and adjusting her palette in order to achieve the overall formal and sensorial equilibrium of the composition. Never overloading the canvas with material so as not to muddy its communication with the viewer, Jaffe makes works that are states of play, freeze-frames of a flux, immortalising fugacity, the frantic effervescence of mixed urban forms, isolating and adjusting them precisely on the canvas.

By controlling the interplay of forces between the lines, colour fields and their frontiers, the artist harmoniously builds an image which circumscribes a dynamic within its framework, the better to make the viewer aware of their own inner mechanism of possibility. While never abandoning the visual seductiveness of its bold colour combinations and familiar signs, the solidity of the composition enables the painting to exist in an autonomous, frontal relation to the beholder. Transgressing the foundations of verticality and horizontality, Jaffe manages to achieve an ideal ordering of motifs and achieve an intrinsic unity, an interplay that is never merely decorative.

The deployment of forms signals a movement, and each movement brings a “rupture” whose position the artist defines in advance. The movement is diffracted by a system of additions, subtractions, dispersions, associations, separations, contractions and extensions — in a word, of exchanges — of masses. The white binds together what is the only plane, and not a ground. The palette favours muted tones. Because the eye must not dwell on a part but take in the whole, the artist opts for a simultaneity of volumes which must not be figuratively identifiable. Such are the formal choices made by Jaffe so as to bring order to the apparent — but only apparent — disorder of her montages.

The interactions which develop according to their own laws between these measured, rational structures are the product of simple operations which give the painting its dramatic intensity, its pertinence and vitality.

Seeing, as its title implies, is an exhibition that invites the viewer to look attentively, and to observe that the signs are now separated by greater amplitudes on the surface of the canvas. The coloured system gains in clarity while the internal mechanics gain in complexity and the tension between the forms increases. The effect of disorientation is pronounced, yet the paintings continue to find their balance in this imbalance. The language of Jaffe’s architectures truly becomes the expression of a shared visual memory.

Born in 1923 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Shirley Jaffe lives and works in Paris. She is an alumna of the Cooper Union School in New York (1945) and the Phillips Art School in Washington (1949). Seen as one of the most influential of contemporary abstract artists, her work has increasingly attracted keen interest from members of the younger generations such as Fiona Rae, Bernard Piffaretti, Peter Soriano and Carole Benzaken. Jaffe’s work is held in many prestigious public and private collections, notably MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York), SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), the Pompidou Centre (Paris), MAC/VAL (Vitry), the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain (Paris), the Berardo Museum (Lisbon), and the FRACs of Auvergne, Brittany and Limousin.

Nathalie Obadia Gallery Gallery
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3, rue du Cloître Saint-Merri & 18 rue du Bourg-Tibourg

75004 Paris

T. 01 42 74 67 68 — F. 01 42 74 68 66

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Opening hours

Every day except Sunday, 11 AM – 7 PM

The artist

  • Shirley Jaffe