David Astrof logo
Accueil Home

Stark portraiture in "Drawn from Life"

Canadian Jewish News June 7, 2001 "Arts Scene" by Heather Solomon

In her current show at David Astrof Fine Arts, artist Shirley Katz defines the human condition. Called "Drawn From Life", here collection of pastel portraits and some earlier works will be in Thomson House, 3650 McTavish Street, until June 30.
Katz has viewers practically talking to the people pictured. The portraits each have their own stories which are not spelled out but felt intuitively. Their stories dwell in their eyes as well as in their body language, and in the artist's choice of shadowy colours chosen to portray them. Happiness is the one emotion put aside here. These are contemplative people who have posed for Katz but whose souls have been caught off-guard.
Since their psyches are denuded by Katz's perceptive hand, an encounter with them is much more than looking at art on a wall. One is deeply touched. The subjects' silence has the viewer wanting to question them about their feelings, often transferring their own imaginings and moods to them.
Take Jeff, for example. He leans against a surface, holding himself up along with the weight of his thoughts. Or Nicole, reduced to the haunting focus of head portraits. Interestingly, a full-length self-portrait of Katz, curled up in her ubiquitous tub chair, depicts her with eyes closed. She seems to shelter her own soul from the probings of viewers to whom she has laid open her models.
Portraiture has had a rich, slow development in Katz
s oeuvre. A print that she made in 1976 featured a couple with their faces left blank. It was not the technical ability to make a portrait that held her back, as is now evident, but perhaps the fact that she was not ready to get up close and personal.
Through most of her career, Katz has been known as a social commentator, lambasting, in her Fairy Tale series, the concept of "happily ever after" that has been spoon-fed to young women, or depicting wealthy women, rattling around huge rooms to show that money can't supplant loneliness. The earlier works in this show include some of her commentaries on childhood, middle age and the emotionally and physically exposed shower-takers whose singing might be seen as a scream of isolation.
Katz's leap of faith to large-format pastels still shows her subjects in the throes of trying to live with themselves. She retains the slight distortion that identified her work as commentary and which still thankfully prevents it from taking on the sterility of photorealism.
The power of her portraiture is such that friends and acquaintances sometimes hesitate to model for her. They feel she may trap their soul on paper for all to see in an exposure more naked than nudity. The nudes in the show prove these friends' point. Their unclothed state, though beautifully rendered, plays a secondary role to their interior life that Katz reveals even more starkly.
Also, anyone other than a professional model or fellow artist (a number of whom have posed for her) balks at her "changing what people look like to make it fit with what I feel like doing. At some stage along the way, they really become mine."
Surmounting her hectic schedule as head of the drawing and painting department of the Saidye Bronfman Centre School of Fine Arts, where she also runs the etching atelier, is her studio time in the Canal Complex.
"The studio is my world" Katz says. "When I go in, it's exciting, like being on an adventure every day."
The adventures always begin when she starts to set a soul on paper, reminding herself of the miracle and the loneliness of human consciousness.
Gallery hours are from noon to 11 p.m. For an appointment or for more information, call David Astrof at 514-286-2476.