Editor's note: The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts provided permission for Resource Library to publish the following essay included in the exhibition brochure for Eternal Beauty: Egg Tempera Paintings by Fred Wessel, being presented at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts June 25 - October 2, 2016. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay and associated materials, please contact the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts directly through either this phone number or web address:
Eternal Beauty: Egg Tempera Paintings by Fred Wessel
by Katherine T. Brown
This spectacular assembly of recent paintings by Fred Wessel principally features young women on the brink of maturity yet who linger willingly and leisurely in states of innocence. They are depicted in harmony with -- if not the fruits of -- the nexus of terrestrial and celestial spheres. A master of both iconography and technique, Wessel combines portraiture with still life against a foil of astronomical maps in homage to the Renaissance paintings that he has assiduously observed. The models' anonymity encourages viewers to contemplate universal themes rather than to dwell on comparing likenesses with specific sitters. Yet, in their familiarity, we can glimpse the quintessence of youth. In line with the paradox of capturing the infinite within a grain of sand or drop of rain, so too can we witness an interminable realm within each of Wessel's minute details: a single leaf, a fold of drapery, or the subtle graduation of flesh tones from a shadowy chin to the blush of a cheek.
Overarching themes in Wessel's opere d'arte are embedded in dichotomous pairings: the infinite magnitude of the night sky compared to the brief, material complexity of life on earth and in the sea; the measurable, knowable nature of science in contrast to the insights about humankind's role in the universe that can only be discerned through the arts and humanities; precision and fluctuation; the continuity of time as marked by seasons, the zodiac, and lunar phases in contrast to ephemeral youth within a single life span; the timelessness of deities in classical mythology as a foil to individual, contemporary women; the beauty of blossoms and awakening femininity with an awareness of their inevitable waning; and in formal terms, the illusion of three-dimensional, hyperrealistic figures against gold-leaf backgrounds. In Wessel's paintings, a frozen moment during the prime of each woman's life is likened to one of the fixed stars in the vault of heaven above her. The depth of Wessel's iconography and his mastery of Renaissance techniques yield works of art that are as sublime in meaning as they are expertly crafted. Beyond luminous jewels that delight the eyes, these gilded panels invite us to envision and embrace the empyrean.
About the author
Katherine T. Brown, Ph.D., is Director of Museum Studies and Asst. Prof. of Art History, Walsh University, North Canton, Ohio
About the exhibition
Eternal Beauty: Egg Tempera Paintings by Fred Wessel is being held at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts from June 25 through October 2, 2016.
The technique of egg tempera painting has been practiced since ancient times. The exacting process of mixing pigment with egg yolk and water, then applying thin layers of paint to a carved wooden panel creates images of great detail and luminescence. Fred Wessel is among the artists today working in egg tempera and he has emerged as a true master of the medium.
The exhibition has been organized by the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts with the cooperation of the Arden Gallery, Boston, in facilitating loans for the exhibition.
(above: Fred Wessel, Taurus, 2015. egg tempera with
gold, silver, and palladium leaf, 24 x 18 inches. Courtesy of The Loewenhardt
Checklist for the exhibition
To view the exhibition brochure, please click here.
To view the exhibition wall panel "Egg Tempera Timeline," please click here.
To view the exhibition wall panel "Making Egg Tempera Paint, please click here.
Resource Library editor's notes:
The above essay was published in Resource Library on August 16, 2016 with permission of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, which was granted to TFAO on August 15, 2016. Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Karla J. Niehus, Associate Curator of Exhibitions, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts for her help concerning permission for publishing the above essay and other materials.
For checklist and wall panels definitions, please see Definitions in Museums Explained.
Resource Library readers may also enjoy
For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists
Read more information, articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in Resource Library.
Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
Copyright 2016 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.