Cheryl Pelavin Fine Arts is pleased to announce new works by Catherine Courtenaye and an introduction to the art of Charles Ramsburg. Both of these artists’ use their technique and content to create a sense of mystery in their work that calls for repeated visits and deciphering; the beauty of it that neither ever fully gives away the secret.
Ms Courtenaye’s previous show with us was in the spring of 2007. We are happy to say the work was wonderfully received here in New York and elsewhere. Ms Courtenaye is a long time resident of California, this was her first New York solo exhibition. One of her images from the show, Bricklayers’ Work, was placed in the Loan Collection for the NEA selected by Dana Gioia, then Chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, under the last administration.
Another large painting from the show, Wilhilmena, was placed with the Collection of the Oakland Museum of California. Many of the other works are now in fine private and corporate collections in New York.
From her new body of work, we are presenting twelve, 12×12 inch, paintings on panel, and three 20×30 inch paintings on canvas. This small format makes for very seductive viewing. From her collection of American 19th century practice books, ledgers and various documents, Courtenaye transfers—using a variety of printmaking processes—phrases, signatures and sums onto her painting surface. These graphic quotations (from an era when learning cursive writing was a path to self improvement) are one of the basic elements of her painting, along with the skillful use of painted layers. Multiple delicately blurred layers hide and reveal past lives. Recently she has been adding a fine curling and wandering black line reminiscent of Victorian marginalia, and using a wide brush to make bold, strongly contrasted loops and gestures, reflecting the curves of letterforms. The small format makes what might have been a detail in a larger canvas an entire composition here. Each of the 12 inch square panels has the quality of small universe of activity and time captured. This work has a powerful personal expression: Courtenaye’s art, always elegant, with the addition of the artist maker’s personal assertions, is all the more beguiling.
Charles Ramsburg is showing with us for the first time. This long time resident of the Southwest has been living in Greenwich Village, New York for the past decade. We are showing 12 of his small scale drawings, as an introduction to his art. Ramsburg’s vision can be called obsessive; this quality is reflected in his carefully attended and tenderly worked surfaces. His fascination with the overall ground of an image is what dictates the subject of the work; while the persistence of detail remains intact whether he is seeing a piece of meadow three feet from his eye or a stand of trees three hundred feet in the distance. Ramsburg was born blind in one eye, creating a lifetime of monocular vision, so that in his broad landscapes there is no vanishing point, no perspective, this is also true of his close-up views of nature. The subject becomes a graceful surface with a narrow dimension of depth. The artist works in one, two and three dimension, and this preoccupation with surface and detail is immediately apparent in all of his art.
Ramsburg works in black and white, using Conté crayon, charcoal and various implements to lift, lighten or remove the blacks. Upon seeing these drawings I was swept up by the graphic sensuality of their cumulative touches and marks, as well as the secrecy and mystery of the image. I thought, at first, I was seeing a mezzotint, the blacks are velvety and the grays have a pearl like quality. The overall softness of the surface seems to speak of the sensitivity and love the artist lavishes on them, so gentle is the effect of the artist’s technique. This delicacy of detail makes Ramsburg’s work transformative. These drawings range from 5×5 to 8×10 inches, and articulate the artist’s abiding interest in going from the macro to the micro, while always keeping the level of detail comparable. Charles Ramsburg’s entire oeuvre expresses this fascination with taking in the entire field and slowly whittling it down to a one to one proportion. One can view his work the same way, take it all in at once and little by little work your way down to an inch by inch approach. The physical boundaries of the drawing may melt into the rhythmic variations of dark and light surfaces, with their sensitive shifts from black to numerous grey tones. We know that the work of Charles Ramsburg will find great interest among our friends and collectors.