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Aron Wiesenfeld: Unwind the Winding Path

Jonathan LeVine Gallery - New York

By Kim Power

Aron Wiesenfeld’s current exhibition, “Unwind the Winding Path” at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, invites us to travel into virgin woodlands, down rivers of unknown origin and to lie down in green pastures strewn with wildflowers. It is an imaginary and untamed natural world all his own that has successfully led his work to be included in shows at the Long Beach Museum of Art (”Masterworks: Defining a New Narrative,” 2014), Bakersfield Museum of Art (”Aron Wiesenfeld: Drawings and Paintings,” 2010) and Casa Dell’Architettura museum in Italy (”Primordial Memory,” 2013).

Wiesenfeld’s waif-like, pre-and-newly-pubescent girls, isolated in supernatural Whistler-like landscapes and wearing weather-inappropriate schoolgirl clothing, are simultaneously vulnerable and introspective. There is an element of the uncanny as they wait, ponder and reflect, a pregnant moment full of mysterious portent. An unspoken existential angst seems to be implied in these solitary figures. They are not archetypically heroic, but I find myself rooting for the dreamy wanderers who inspire me to wax nostalgic about my own pre-adolescent sense of wonder at the magical possibilities of abandoned and forgotten places.

Aron Wiesenfeld, Bunker, 2016, oil on canvas, 33.5” x 44.5.” Courtesy of Jonathan LeVine Gallery.

Evasive when asked to define his narrative, Wiesenfeld prefers to leave room for the viewer’s imagination to complete his tableaus. Still, some offer clues, like a trail of breadcrumbs. The charcoal diptych drawing Picnic (2016) reveals a dense forest, an abandoned picnic, the barely discernable silhouettes of a girl and boy wandering deeper into unknown territory while a dark castle in the distance signals the way back to civilization. This could be the setting for the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, except for a young woman who stands idly by, witness to the scene.

Daughter (2016) shows us a naked, ageless woman, painted in oil, lying on a forest floor, hair enmeshed with leaves and half of her body obscured in the shadows of emerald green bushes. Her arms reach out towards the overgrowth as if to a lover. Is this a reference to Correggio’s Jupiter and Io (1532-1533)?

In a large charcoal drawing, Eleanor (2016), a young woman with a chrysanthemum in her hair and sporting a 1970s secretary blouse, leans against a tree while gazing wistfully downward, neither revealing sadness nor joy. Arms hanging loosely by her sides, she holds an indecipherable letter in her delicate hands, which obliquely form the shape of a heart. One cannot help but think of another young woman with downcast eyes and unreadable expression-Vermeer’s A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window (c. 1657-1659).

The detailed specificity of plant life in Wiesenfeld’s large-scale painting Bunker (2016) is reminiscent of The Unicorn Tapestries (1495-1505), a similar theme shared by the pop surrealist Mark Ryden’s Dodecahedron (2016) series of paintings. However, Wiesenfeld’s style leans more towards late 18th-century Romanticist painting in sentiment, revealing the remnants of human presence. A neglected bunker is hidden below a field of wildflowers. The naked framework of an abandoned greenhouse is battered by wind and rain in The Off Season (2016). Wiesenfeld’s youthful tronies display a pioneering heroism in both their submission to, but also stoic existence in the face of, the vagaries of nature and its elements, whether lying half-conscious in a field of flowers under a stormy sky or waiting out a rainstorm under a flimsy blue tarp.

Like a modern-day Lewis Carol, Wiesenfeld stretches the figure into superhuman proportions in his charcoal drawing The Tower (2016) and reduces it to insignificance in relation to its environment, as in the painting Night Grove (2016) in which a young girl holds a single flashlight before a foreboding black gap between trees too tall to fit into the picture frame. Allusions to Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole and other tall tales cause Wiesenfeld’s paintings and drawings to tilt towards the side of illustration. I would be tempted to call it just that without prejudice, being a lover of the Golden Age of Illustration myself, but the Balthusian aspect of the girls he portrays and the Hitchcock-like sense of suspenseful drama tells a different story, deceptively simple yet rife with complex Freudian interpretations. Whether his characters represent the author, viewer or narrator, they allow us to enter into the artist’s imaginary realm and invite us to share a solitary experience of uncertain outcome. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

(November 19 - December 17, 2016)

Kim Power is an international artist and writer currently residing in The Bronx. She holds a B.S. in Art Education from James Madison University and a Master in Fine Arts in painting from the New York Academy of Art. Her reviews have been published through The Brooklyn Rail, Arte Fuse, and Quantum Art Review.

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