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Lorraine Shemesh’s work marries figuration with abstract expressionist concerns with surprising and profound results. Her new series of paintings and ceramics represents an investigation of movement, pattern, and dialogue––two dancers interact and press against the edges of the canvas in a dynamic way; two contrasting pigments of clay twist and accrete in layers that resolve into a unified form.
In her recent paintings, Shemesh deepens her interest in intertwining figures in motion, addressing ideas of disjuncture and harmony and the politics of communication. Using professional dancers as models, set in clearly defined yet unidentifiable surroundings, she “creates a way of feeling and seeing that pulls us into … a fresh view of the human body. … The paintings create a balance of palpable realism and conceptual abstraction. … The force of these figures in motion and stasis allows us to gaze with pleasure and to meditate more deeply on the relationship between the body, light, space, and intimacy.” (Peter Balakian, catalogue essay)
The featured ceramic vessels were inspired by the layered rock formations in New Mexico. Using a Japanese process called Neriage, Shemesh interlaces different-colored clay bodies, building patterns reminiscent of those found in nature. The color structure of the ceramics later informed the warmer palette of the work she produced in paint, creating a dialogue between the two mediums. It is this focus on dialogue in all of its forms––thematic, aesthetic, philosophical––that is the fundamental link between the artist’s past and present bodies of work.
As Shemesh states: “There is an emotional component to the weaving together of the light and dark of the human experience. Clay has a memory, is easily broken, sensitive to touch and temperature, capable of fragility and strength, and greatly affected by the atmosphere in which it finds itself. Much the same thing can be said for the human body and the ephemeral nature of life itself.”
Shemesh’s work has been exhibited in solo and group shows across the United States and internationally. An MFA graduate of the Tyler School of Art, she has held teaching positions at The Rhode Island School of Design and Amherst College. Her work has been reviewed/reproduced in The New Yorker, Art in America, The New York Times, and Harper’s Magazine, among others. Shemesh is the recipient of a Rhode Island State Council for the Arts Grant in Painting, a Yaddo Fellowship, and a Distinguished Alumni Award in Visual Arts from Boston University, and she was elected to the National Academy of Design in 2005. She lives and works in New York City.