Ellen Frances Tuchman’s art is composed of gorgeous
materials that are chosen and placed with exquisite precision, and inspire
endless flights of fancy in time and space. Here, then, is a fantasy on the
theme of Ellen Tuchman's P.O.P.:Pacific Ocean Park (Summer):
The dog days have descended here in Texas in the year, 1938. My cotton-lawn
dress, which I donned ten minutes ago, already is limp with perspiration.
I'm standing in the kitchen, making lemonade. A bit of breeze wafts through
the window. I look out at the thermometer and pull the fabric away from my
Perspiration, heartbeat, breath. I bear down on the dome of lemon and twist
it. Other than that, stillness. Fade to black.
Now I'm watching a ballet. The dancers strike positions requiring great physical
strength, but betraying no human effort. The longer I gaze, the more I become
aware of this paradox and the more enthralled I become.
I realize I am dying. My vision fades and awareness of the material world
ebbs away. Even my hearing, the last of the senses to fail, is expiring. All
is quiet and still. Then light and, out of the light, a sense of swirling,
brocade-like pattern — as if my grandmother's snowiest-white damask
tablecloth were extending infinitely before me.
Then, in the midst of this, an even more luminous space begins to emerge.
Rectilinear in shape, restfully horizontal in orientation, it first appears
colorless, then begins to shimmer with pastel hues and intermittent points
I'm not dying after all: I'm simply lost in cyber space. Pixilated, as it
were. Clearly defined areas of color and form gather in one corner of the
gleaming rectangle. They are smaller rectangles, each containing a circle.
The circles are buttons! They're not icons to click on, though, but refugees,
perhaps, from a long-lost piece of negligee.
I recover from my reverie. What I'm looking at, I realize, is a sheet of vellum.
It has been perforated with a complex and delicate foliate pattern, whose
center is occupied by a horizontal rectangle, painted with cool pastels. The
remote stillness of those soft colors is enhanced by a film of glistening
powdered pigment. That ethereal surface, in turn, has been studded at precise
intervals with a grid of stitched-down glass beads that catch and reflect
light. And, then, there are those buttons, those artifacts of a garment that
once covered someone's nakedness.
Summer is one of the seasons that stitch together Ellen Tuchman's work in
this exhibition. The four seasons, interpreted as moods between intervals
of transition, are an ancient artistic theme. Along with all of the panoply
surrounding human procreation — love, seduction, fertility, coitus,
gestation, birth — the seasons form the great link between nature and
culture. Countless customs — what to eat, how to dress, how to pass
time, what to work at — were developed in response to the seasons and
they, in turn, contribute to the definition of civilizations.
Civilization in Tuchman's art is represented in genteel, Western terms. It's
a milieu both innocent and cosmopolitan — knowing but constantly refreshed
by an insatiable curiosity and an inability to be bored. Curiosity fulfilled,
of course, creates the need to synthesize new information that leads, in turn,
to creation of thematic meaning, to new texts and subtexts or, in Tuchman's
case, new schema.
Here we encounter another paradox. Tuchman arrives at a level of thematic
or conceptual synthesis, and clearly composes and fixes (as though they were
specimens of insect life) her mix of media and found elements. Yet she manages
to leave abundant room for the individual viewer to uniquely experience each
This is possible because Tuchman works on a profoundly informed level that
permits her to make intuitive, rather than consciously programmed, visual
choices. The elements of her work can be as ladylike and esoteric as quilled
paper, which during the Middle Ages was substituted for metal filigree and
in Victorian times was twisted, cut and variously applied to help assuage
one's horror vacui. They may be deliberately cloying and trite as buttons
and bows — or as urbane and sly as a beaded, mini-reproduction of an
early work by Frank Stella.