Robert Wieferich’s Our Home Through the Seasons; Refamiliarizing the Familiar by Ben Lussier
Presently, circumstance dictates that all of us are spending a great deal more time at home. And while we are undoubtedly living through a time of unprecedented uncertainty (and this is one obvious reason for the apprehension that all of us are experiencing right now) I suspect that some of our current unease stems rather from our sudden and uncannily total immersion in a setting that is perhaps the very definition of the immediate and familiar.
Indeed, finding oneself face to face with things that we usually take for granted can take many forms — boredom, anxiety, a persistent air of uncanniness — but beneath these more restless expressions of refamiliarization, the potential for revelation, even awe, is constantly present.
The things that are most immediate in life can be the things that are the most obscure. As Gloucester painter Charles Movalli put it: “On the face of it, the easiest of all activities should be seeing what we see. In reality, it's the hardest.” Paradoxically, familiarity breeds distance. Emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, the things we encounter habitually grow transparent — that is, until something explicitly draws our attention to them.
All of this is business as usual for the painter, whose provenance is precisely this continual close encounter with the all-too-familiar. Penetrating things, divining their meanings, the artist aims not merely to see the world, but to know it.
In the sphere of Russian art criticism this vital function that the work of art performs is sometimes called defamiliarization or ‘estrangement’— presenting the familiar in novel ways, art brings things out of transparency and makes us notice them. I prefer to think of this process rather as one of refamiliarization, for it is not the case that that art just ‘makes strange’ — for this making strange is in fact an opportunity for a deeper, more intimate, and ultimately more empathetic relationship with the real.
With this current, unexpected circumscription of our life world comes the unique opportunity to reassess and rediscover those feelings, images, and narratives that collectively serve to help us feel at home in the world.
Robert Wieferich’s Our Home Through the Seasons, an intimate collection of large format paintings that showcase scenes from the artists home in Freeport, Maine, represents just the sort of sensitive artistic understanding that revels in the transcendent underpinnings of the mundane. The subject matter at the core of this exhibition is no doubt deeply familiar to fellow denizens of the Northeast: dappled light on a long row of tulips, mounds of orange day lilies blooming in the front yard, long shadows of trees stretched across a yard littered with fallen apples, the last vestiges of spring snow clinging to a shaded roadside. Utilizing layered, vibrational, and acutely sensitive brushwork, Wieferich imbues these humble scenes with a depth and import I suspect many of us miss in the course of daily routine. More than idyllic scenery, these images are powerful symbols of the belonging and security essential to our experience of home. They represent those almost imperceptible rhythms and harmonies that stitch together our lives.
Like many landscape painters, Wieferich takes full advantage of the strong values and rich color granted by the early morning and late afternoon sun. His paintings possess a strong sense of abstract design, without sacrificing his evident commitment to realism and attention to detail. Light is undoubtedly the hero of these images and Wieferich’s handling of the subject is formidable. His lights are bathed in washes of color that afford the viewer an almost palpable sensation of warmth. Even his darks radiate delicate luminosity: shimmering with subtle color and temperature variations, they remind us that shadow, too, is a thing of light.
In a world that seems always to goad us on in a tireless quest for the novel, the exotic, and the never-before-seen, paintings like Wieferich’s are a compelling reminder that one needn’t look very far to find things that offer us fulfillment. The things that truly sustain us are right where we need them. Beauty is everywhere. You’re swimming in it. You just have to know how to look.
February 28, 2020