April 2006

If they were music, her images would be scores; if texture, they would be fine faded rugs or antique weavings; and if films, they would be scissored strips laid out in rows in the editing room.

But they are paintings, quiet, powerful, mostly large yet strangely graceful. They are born from long hours of solitude in the light-flooded Berkeley studio where Stephanie Weber spends most of her days paintings and her evenings reflecting.

Weber always knew that she wanted to paint. In the 1960s she studied at UCLA with Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and Nathan Oliveira, all three figurative masters. Yet from the very beginning of her career she has chosen abstraction as her means of expression, resisting current fashions that favor the conceptual, installations, photography and video art.

[ Click above to view works ]

Her paintings’ backgrounds are of honeycomb aluminium.The aluminium is mostly painted over but on occasion she leaves one or more strips bare, or sands in the color in semi-circular movements so that some of the « sheen and toughness, » in her words, » of the metal shines through.

Weber’s paintings are composed of series of vertical or horizontal bands and broader fields of color .These range from the earthy sienna, ocher, green and umber, to incandescent, almost strident oranges and indigos, violets and yellows. Colors are contained within the lines yet trespass these frontiers and interact, melding within the eye, as sounds strummed on a viola’s chords meld within the ear. Surface treatement and media vary from one zone to the next : some areas are rich and painterly, leaving brush strokes apparent and recalling Diebenkorn’s « Ocean Park Series » or Oliveira’s « Steles. » ,Others superpose a thin wash of oil over acrylic, while some are flat, crisp and razor-edged.

Thin fragments of old aluminium-printed photographic plates interspersed in the compositions whisper through the painting, sending out a «crackly kind of energy » as Weber put it. It is as if the modern world was suddently cutting through a more ancient universe of geological strata or skin layers.

Looking more closely,as if through a microscope, some parts of the paintings seem to recede and others come forward when thin layers of metal are applied over backgrounds. And adding lateral movements to that subtle dance,some of the stripes angle off, bend,stop before the edge of the painting or undulate in curtains of color while minute, faint streaks of red or green mark the edge of the rectangles.

Yet what could be a disparate patchwork possesses depth and unity. As Weber described it: «Areas that are quite distinct yet speak to one another.» These discordant areas could be termed sensuality and logic,or inside and outside. But like the alchemist or romantic poet, Weber knows how to make ideas physical, weaving her worlds together into a radiant rainbow.

-- Carole Naggar

George Billis Gallery
511 West 25 Street
Until May 6