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Tula Telfair: Landscapes in Counterpoint

April 24 - June 27, 2010


From April 24 through June 27, 2010 the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, presents Tula Telfair: Landscapes in Counterpoint. The exhibition pairs nine new monumental paintings by the artist with her selection of nineteenth and early twentieth-century paintings from the museum's collection. Telfair's choices, which include works by Thomas Cole and Frederic E. Church, establish the visual foundation for, as well as a counterpoint to, her own large-scale landscapes -- paintings that are informed by both tradition and imagination. (right: Tula Telfair, Order is a Necessary Counterpart to Sensuality, 2010.  Oil on canvas, 74 x 96 inches. Courtesy of Forum Gallery.)

Telfair approaches landscape through color, creating epic canvases that balance illusionism against abstraction. Her poetic works, some over 9 by 6 feet, seem strangely familiar, their grandeur recalling the picturesque panoramas captured in the nineteenth century by artists of the Hudson River School. Yet unlike painters who record what they see in front of them, Telfair composes her romantic scenes from memory, drawing upon her travels around the world and the vistas of her youth in West Africa. Telfair often positions the viewer above or at a distance from the landscapes, leaving tantalizingly indistinct details like roads or houses that might acknowledge a human presence in the scenes. An appreciation for the history of art also permeates Telfair's work. Her embrace of ideal landscapes recalls the painters of the Renaissance, as does her use of glazes to impart translucence to her paintings.

At the same time, Telfair's absorption in the formal qualities of her work is undeniably modern. Her landscapes are, in essence, bands of colors, a concept she at times makes more explicit by surrounding the panoramas with strips of solid pigment. The noticeable brushwork in these colored edges contrasts with the glossy illusionism of the landscapes, reminding us that in the end, these glorious panoramas are paint rather than windows onto another reality. Using titles such as Order is a Necessary Counterpart to Sensuality (2010) also distances her paintings from association with any particular place, affording the viewer the opportunity to recall their own personal experience. "I am interested in the subjectivity of perception and the power of memory," states Telfair. "These illusions of epic moments in nature generally facilitate an emotional response and trigger recollections of things past."

For this exhibition Telfair acted as both featured artist and "curator," selecting nearly three dozen  landscape paintings from the Florence Griswold Museum's permanent holdings, notably from the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection. Inspired by an installation she saw at the National Museum of Denmark, Telfair opts for unconventional groupings of pictures that call attention to the often-overlooked formal properties of historic paintings. For one wall of the gallery, she selected works based on the artists' tactile handling of paint and clusters them from floor to ceiling with an eye to color harmonies. On another wall, she hangs paintings by John Frederick Kensett, Emil Carlsen, and Childe Hassam that made an impact on her through their dramatic lighting and the artists' attention to atmosphere and detail. According to Telfair, the Hudson River School and Impressionist paintings in this group are "transportive and embody the Romantic landscape tradition echoed in my own work." Each of her three "compositions" of a dozen or more canvases expresses a mood as well as creating a new way in which to experience paintings usually viewed in isolation. Telfair says, "As a contemporary artist, my work deals simultaneously with both illusionism and modernism or abstraction. But this exhibition is allowing me to consider in greater depth how my paintings relate to the landscape tradition." "We're thrilled that the artist is not only creating new work for exhibition but engaging herself with our collections. By playing the role of both artist and curator, Tula Telfair poses questions that will provoke audiences to consider the nature of landscape painting," states Amy Kurtz Lansing, curator of the Florence Griswold Museum.  

The exhibition is supported by The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company.


About the Artist

Telfair is a Professor of Art, and the Interim Co-Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Tula Telfair lives and works in New York City. Born in Bronxville, NY, in 1961, she grew up in Africa, Asia and Europe before settling in the United States as a young girl. She received a BFA from Moore College of Art in 1980, and earned an MFA in 1986 as a Graduate Fellow from Syracuse University. She has work in collections around the world, and has shown extensively in one-person and group exhibitions in the United States and broad. Her work is in the public collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Redding Art Museum, General Electric Corporation, The Federal Reserve Bank, MasterCard Corporation, Deloitte Touch, Cable Vision, Brauerei Beck and Company to name a few. She is represented by Forum Gallery in New York City.


Special Events and Programming

On Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 2pm there will be a lecture by Tula Telfair on the development of her work followed by a light Mother's Day tea. Fee. Reservations required. Call 860.434.5542 x.111 or register at www.FlorenceGriswoldMuseum.org.

A variety of other special events, lectures, and presentations developed in conjunction with the exhibition will be posted on the Museum's website www.FlorenceGriswoldMuseum.org.

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