Oxygen, 1999. Photographs, resin, and scorched paper, and wax,53.25 x 101.5 in.

Judy Pfaff

Karen McCready Gallery

New York

Judy Pfaffs wall art mixes etchings, encaustic, lithographs, Photographs, fire, resin, and other matter to send strong messages about the healing forces and the spiritual dimensions of the visible and historical world. The artist layers singular signs for the elements-fire, earth, water, and air-inside incised hand-worke frames. At the same time that her work features materials with sensory and radiant properties, it also challenges the viewer to see beyond material reality.

Twenty-three of the 24 works on view were created between 1996 and 1999. Each Piece creates its own mood. The Other (1998), composed of an etching, encaustic, hand dye, and waxed hosta leaves, generates a sensuous and spiritual aura. Four leaf shapes create a vegetal cross around a central black oval, out of which flow hands, other circles, lines, and elusive forms. The brown, bronze leaves and the work’s mixed green, black, and earth tones suggest nature’s fecundity and cycles.

A suite of smaller horizontal works on Crown Kozo paper, each 15 by 32 inches framed, interrelate spheres, mandalas, and sensory images evoking sight, sound, touch, and hearing. Some feature Chinese texts demonstrating acupuncture healing Points. They variously combine etching, lithography, and handwork.

Judy Pfaff, The Other, 1998. Etching, encaustic, hand dye, and waxed hosta leaves, 77 x 36.5 in.

Some photographs and ledger sheets allude to the artist’s present home on the Hudson River in upstate New York. Pfaff includes photographs of the ducks on the river near her studio and Bard College, where she co-chairs the art department. Memorabilia signify both the personal and the universal in each of our lives. The artist also incorporates trees and root systems in varied guises-in nature, bleached, bruised, burned, bloodied, and otherwise marked as anthropomorphic stand-ins for varied human conditions.

Pfaff’s new work is generally large, layered, and experiential. Oxygen highlights oxygen’s interplay with life forms and other elements, notably water and fire. The handmade, silver-coated wooden frame is incised with lines that allude to the frames of film and bubbles of oxygen inside the frame. Here, a suite of photos (by Pfaff and Rob van Erve) of water ducks, ripples, bubbles, grapes, and other rounded forms has been literally scorched. The burns have been smothered in a curving flow of resin, some of which has been darkened, probably by more fire. The explicit interplay of the elements in the works creation shows oxygen in action. This is a fresh way of seeing the effects of an invisible yet essential element and is more instructive than the present fad for reproducing models of molecular structures. The aesthetic dimension-seeing through layers of scorched materials and images-also works.

One of the strongest compositions, an untitled triptych of two trees, offers a controlled drip of black and white dots, some of which are connected by gray and colored curving lines, forming a maze atop a burned and stained transfer photo of dark trees against distant mountains. The wooden frames, handmade and coated with an antique silver finish, are incised with lines and symbols that carry on the themes in each work. Some signs suggest infinity, continuity, and space.

ln her 1998 exhibitions at the Emmerich Gallery on 57th Street and at the 24th lnternational Biennale in Sdo Paulo, Brazil, the viewer moved inside Pfaff’s installations, experiencing her use of steel tubing to invent the veins and arteries of the space, circular plaster forms, and chained or hanging root systems. The wall art, in contrast, is more intimate, the messages partly hidden. These pieces invite a closer look
at the mystery and intelligence inside.

-Jan Garden Castro