Intimate portraits at the Zack
The exhibit Painting Intimate, showcasing the work of penny eisenberg and Ray Ophoff, is at the Zack Gallery until May 11. (photo by Olga Livshin)
The exhibit Painting Intimate introduces Vancouver art lovers to two very different local artists: penny eisenberg and Ray Ophoff. Different in their approaches, their styles and their creative philosophies.
“I have always liked painting,” eisenberg told the Independent. “I painted as a teenager, then stopped for a few years. I resumed painting in my 20s, but I was a closet painter then. I had several jobs in those years, worked as a cook and in retail. I kept on painting as a hobby, but, when I was 30, I took a class at Emily Carr. The instructor liked my works and suggested I apply for a full-time program.” She did.
Graduating from Emily Carr in 1995, she has been a full-time artist ever since, working in various themes and in a range of sizes as she tried to find her niche. For her, there is a huge gap between the words “picture” and “painting.”
“People buy pictures and hang them on their walls,” she said. “But I’m interested in paintings, not pictures. I’m trying to learn what is painting in the 21st century, when there are so many pictures around.”
Lately, as this exhibition demonstrates, all her paintings have been small. “I like working on small canvases,” she said. “I want to figure out what I want, and the small size allows me to create more paintings, to experiment with different series and subjects. Sometimes, I even work on a few different series simultaneously.”
The current show displays several of her series. There are hazy cityscapes, pulsing with light. There are brightly textured flower bouquets. A number of the paintings are from her latest series.
“In this series, I’ve been exploring the history of women in the arts, how other artists painted their female models,” she said. From 18th-century artist Jean-Baptiste-Simon Chardin to fashion photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries, eisenberg has transformed other artists’ women through the prism of her own artistic vision. In her abstracted compositions, which follow the others’ outlines but express her own esthetic, eisenberg had made all the portraits small and intimate – and faceless.
“There are two reasons for all my figures being faceless,” she said. “When we identify emotions, faces are what we look at. I wanted to show emotions without the faces, through paints, colours and shapes. In this series, I also examined who influenced whom in the art history, and how it reflected in their female model paintings.”
The internet age is another reason for this approach. “I view the reality of contemporary culture as a series of faceless interactions through social media,” she said. “That’s what I wanted to express. Hence, the hashtag in the title of the series, #otherartistswomen.”
When Zack Gallery director Linda Lando suggested eisenberg apply for a show, the artist embraced the opportunity. “I wanted a show at the Zack, but it is a large space,” said eisenberg. “I couldn’t handle the stress of filling it all by myself. I asked Linda if I could invite a friend artist, Ray Ophoff, to share it with me.”
Like Eisenberg, Ophoff is a long-time participant in the East Side Culture Crawl. In fact, that’s how they met.
“Many years ago, I visited her studio during the Culture Crawl,” recalled Ophoff. “I had a painting – a landscape – in my own studio at the time, and I saw that she had painted the same place, but it was much better than mine. We started talking and became friends.”
Ophoff has never studied art formally, or taken classes. He is a salesman by profession and paints in his spare time. “I’m entirely self-taught,” he said. “But I read a lot about art. My yearly spending for various art magazines runs to $900.”
Ophoff has 15 paintings in this show, most of them flowers and landscapes in exuberant, uplifting colours. Blown-up to 10 times or more of their real size, his flowers attract viewers with their deceptively simple beauty and their graceful allure. They would gladden any space, and people appreciate the optimism of his imagery.
“I sell almost everything I paint,” he said. “Mostly it is through the Culture Crawl or the First Saturday project. People come to my studio. I don’t even have a website.”
For Ophoff, his art is the only outlet where all the decisions are his alone. “I paint what I want,” he said. “When I walk through the woods or parks or gardens, I take photos. I always know: this is the image I want to paint. Not the entire photo, just a small fragment of it. My painting is not a tree or a flower. It is about that tree or that flower, my version of that tree.”
He considers himself an editor of imagery. “I edit everything unnecessary out of the image,” he explained. “When I find the perfect image, I always know. It is almost like time stops. I know: this will be a great one. Maybe not my painting of it, but the image itself.”
Ophoff’s canvases tell stories. They animate the flora around us and invite our imaginations to unfold. Despite their larger size, his works are, in their own way, as intimate as eisenberg’s much smaller compositions.
For both Ophoff and eisenberg, Painting Intimate is their first show at the Zack Gallery. The exhibit opened on April 11 and continues until May 11.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].