The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art

Ursinus College

Collegeville, PA



The Topiary Series - Form and Shadow

(January 29 - April 23 2000)

by Barbara J. Zucker


The images for the paintings in this exhibition are derived primarily from the topiary garden at Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia. My intention, however, is to portray the emotions and sensations experienced in the garden rather than the actual place. As a result, the paintings are neither realistic nor abstract but somewhere in between. (left: Toparies: Form and Shadow Diptych, 1999, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 72 inches)

The topiary paintings express a dichotomy between the calming peacefulness of the massive formal shapes and the threatening aspect of the sharp shadows and the narrow passageways. There is also a dichotomy between the formal topiaries and the more natural landscape viewed beyond the garden. A feeling of tension and ambiguity enters the room-like spaces that are at once protective but secretive, tranquil but unsettling. The cropped close-up views in the paintings give the feeling that something may be lurking behind the trees just off-stage. I paint shadows of unseen forms to imbue these works with a sense of mystery and suspense, of something unknown about to happen in an otherwise static space.

While there are no figures in the garden, there is nevertheless a palpable human presence in that gardeners--not nature--pruned the geometric trees. It also exists in the shapes of the trees themselves, which are evocative of the human body. The combination of rounded and pointed shapes suggests an interplay between male and female. There is a quiet dance for dominion between the male and female elements that describes not so much the relationship between man and woman as between the masculine and feminine within oneself. (left: Hedged Garden, 1999, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches)

During the month of March, the installation will be enhanced by live trees and plants provided by Garrett Churchill, a landscape design and build company, My idea is to exhibit the paintings in a setting that echoes the illusionary spaces. I am attempting to have the viewer experience the same emotions in the gallery itself as those expressed in the paintings.

I began painting The Topiary Series in 1994 with several small acrylics on paper, and the theme has continued since then with variations in media, scale and approach. My technique involves the use of many layers of pastel or acrylic on either paper or canvas, often in intense complementary colors. Reds, oranges and violets in the underpainting enrich the predominant greens and blues. The contrast of soft textures within the almost hard-edged forms intrigues me, as does the contrast of light and shadow, one of the primary themes of this series. (right: Toparies: Form and Shadow XIV, 1999, acrylic and pastel, 40 x 51 inches)

During the time that I have been working on The Topiary Series, I have also been painting a series of landscapes of England, Wales, Ireland, Austria and Pennsylvania. These works are quite different in mood from the topiary paintings with vast spaces and rolling hillsides often pattered with rows of crops or walls and symbolizing the sensuous, mythic Mother Earth. Many of these landscapes will be on view in a solo exhibition at The Hahn Gallery in Chestnut Hill from April 6 to May 3, 2000.

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