I knew Kathy Weinberg’s faux tile paintings from seeing them in her studio before they were exhibited in public. They seemed to achieve a particularly complete synthesis of what she had been working towards. They combined scenes of her daily life which were infused with a great deal of art and culture, which is no surprise since she is an artist and a restoration professional who focuses on period rooms and furniture. Moreover, Weinberg’s life and partner is Jeffrey Ackerman, who is also a prolific painter and sculptor whose professional and artistic work is deeply steeped in historical imagery, process and meaning. Their work in restoration and conservation includes projects in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Weinberg and Ackerman maintain a vigilantly critical eye to historical process and materials as well as cultural content.
So, to say the least, Weinberg is acutely aware of the historical thread of cultural objects and how they are presented to — and received by — the viewing public. This critical self-awareness often pops up unexpectedly. For example, I made the following note about Weinberg’s work in my review of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s 2016 Biennial: “Kathy Weinberg’s this-is-who-we-are paintings that look like Delft-style tiles caught me in the act of photographing them: I only saw the guy in a museum taking a digital picture as I was doing exactly that.”
Weinberg’s work is personal, but it implicated me — rather brilliantly — in her own contemporary subjectivity. She was honestly depicting the world around her, and, to my surprise, it included poignant bits of my world even at hopefully-hidden moments: Photographing works in museums still has a wisp of worry that you are breaking the rules It was only the year before I wrote that, for example, that the Portland Museum of Art adopted the policy of you-can-photograph-it-unless-signs-say-otherwise.
And it is personal work. Weinberg is a prolific writer and offbeat chronicler as well as a visual artist. With her adopting a Delftware appearance in her paintings, she opened the door to seemingly fleeting images of everyday life. Like a diary, they are sketch-quick with a sense of self-honesty rather than appearing scrubbed and idealized. (Here’s looking at you, Facebook!) While the television might harken to the role of theater of centuries past, it also offers a view to a compelling sense of daily life, a societal source of common cosmologies, disturbing news from world events, and a shared experience with her life partner.
The Delftware aesthetic — tin-glazed blue and white pottery — is all but ubiquitously identifiable. Still, it subtly echoes traditions such as the Chinese porcelain on which it was modeled, Greek vase painting, Quimper and much more. These traditions are complicated in terms of their cultural presence: On one hand, they often depict daily life and average people. (Quimper’s best selling image since it began its hand-painted pottery production in 1708, for example, still depicts a peasant in traditional/common Breton dress.) Yet the study, collecting and appreciation of such works leans towards a more sophisticated audience that is relatively erudite and financially secure. Weinberg’s work reclaims a sense of common normality, however sweet and personal: It is allergic to elitism. For example, she shows a many-times repeated image of a light switch, the sign of the Sol Moscot glasses store that has been at the same spot on the Lower East Side of Manhattan since the early 20th century, and a glance in the rearview mirror while driving. After all, these are (or have been) important aspects of her everyday just as they are to so many of us. We tend to take the commonplace so much for granted that we stop noticing it. The quotidien, if you will, is a form of cultural invisibility. And yet this is what fascinates us when we visit other cultures or consider the past. For example, how were candles and fires lit before matches and lighters? How did people keep food around before refrigerators? What did an average evening for a typical couple look like 300, 200, 100 years ago? These are just a few questions of the myriad millions we could ask, but the answers and experiences were so commonplace that few thought to record them. And histories were mostly the scrubbed exploits of the victors of power, their wars and their stories — because that’s what they wanted the future to hear about and they had the power to enforce the contents of the record left as legacy.
It was no wonder that Weinberg’s tile paintings were again selected for the 2018 CMCA Biennial. They are quiet, but they announce a powerful social, cultural, anthropological and political perspective. They are romantic in the personal sense as well as Romantic in the philosophical sense. Romanticism, after all, laid the groundwork for the Feminist phrase that “the personal is political,” a reminder that the history of human experience can — and should be — considered from multiple perspectives. Truth, it follows, doesn’t have to be something that can be experimentally replicated: The personal experience is real, after all, and that is where we live everyday — through our personal experiences of the world. And there is Truth in the Real. If we are lucky, like Weinberg, we find the sweetness of love and an appealing domestic life. Yet at times, we feel the sting of others’ selfishness or bigotry. We navigate culture and its vicissitudes — technological, political and otherwise. Weinberg’s American Quartet series featured in the 2016 CMCA Biennial included scenes from her daily life, an image of the Taliban destroying sculptures, a picture of a man about to be beheaded taken from a terrorist propaganda video, vintage baseball players, and Trump’s hairpiece caught in the breeze For Weinberg, such works represent “a collage of life, of all of the characters we encounter jostling for our attention, interrupting our thoughts, disturbing our dreams and creating the fabric of culture.”
While “collage” has the potential to become a chaotic jumble, Weinberg uses architectural devices to anchor her compositions. She lays down, as if in mortar, a tiled wall. This tiled wall also resembles a stone quilt depicting the “fabric of culture.” This fits the grid logic of her tile paintings, and even more so when considering that Weinberg is an accomplished writer: “Text,” after all, comes from the Latin textum — something woven together, a set of ideas that goes beyond the linear into a broader, more balanced grid-like notion of fabric.
In discussing the subject of “balance,” Weinberg recently wrote to me:
I was looking for balance when I began my series of tile paintings. They began as a fusion of many interests, I was making paintings and sculptures that related to each other, and at the same time was writing short vignettes about daily life and keeping a photographic diary of anything and everything. The faux tile paintings allowed me to combine all of that.
I was looking to artists like Chardin, Watteau, Seurat (especially his charcoal drawings) and found some of what I was looking for. I thought a lot about music and the fusion of images into an album, or an opera.
The works also refer back to themselves, in the piece Eye Witness/Big Paper, where the patterns of the wallpaper begin to repeat the main action of the scene. The potential for chaos in that piece is contained by a combination of architectural reference points, the television set, and the wallpaper with tile motifs.
While this text was part of a one-on-one conversation, it mirrors directly what Weinberg states publicly in her current artist statement about her goals, inspirations and the intended meaning of her recent paintings:
Kathy Weinberg: Artist Statement
My paintings combine vignettes of daily life, patterns from textiles and ceramics, historic and vintage scenes, still life, and allegory. My work evokes a graphic novel, book of hours, journal, encyclopedia or storyboard, and incorporates the pictorial language where image intersects with design. I create open-ended narratives with singular or groups of images, resembling a scene on a stage, or a movie still. Details like a light switch on wallpaper create the reference point of scale; life-sized yet intimate. A sense of place, and time passing is suggested. A television set becomes a theater where the events of the world are combined with unrelated, contrasting thoughts, in images and symbols. Practical objects are paired with ornamental flourishes that are romantic, even humorous. The ordinary becomes mysterious. My palette, like a volume adjustment, adds to the sense of drama through color combinations that also enrich the composition.
Image at top of page: Kathy Weinberg, Annunciation, glazed ceramic, 2016-17, 11” x 14”