A SENTENCE STARTING WITH A CROWD OF STRANGE FACES OF STRANGERS
by Norman WeinsteinY ou never know whose face greets you when you enter a gallery, and that is reason enough to frequent them, because in this small city where the vast majority of stranger’s faces still can be categorized as Caucasian, even WASP, you or I might visit an art gallery to catch glimpses of less familiar faces, so I walked into Stewart Gallery, and Stephanie, Lane, and Marlow were probably working in the back so here are these strange faces greeting me, and they’re rather large snapshot size, but unlike snapshots, which now, thanks or not thanks to auto-focus camera technology, sharply stay in focus, Kolb’s faces possess a slightly out-of-focus quality, though not blurry in the way that pre-auto-focus portraits used to be, in fact, Kolb’s faces appear sharply etched, but somehow there is an interference to facial clarity that is exactly like the role shyness plays when you meet a stranger who immediately doesn’t fit the stereotypic facial features of the typical face in your community, then a hesitancy crawls into your perception, you nervously like a sparrow look down or away, step back from the face, if not literally then in psychological interior space, and there’s an element of noise, static introduced in your neural pathways, and I handle this, perhaps you do likewise, by the comforting alibi of telling yourself “I’m shy around strangers,” but more to the point would be a statement like, “I don’t know how to look a stranger in the eye,” and here’s a mass of these strange faces greeting me at the gallery who seem indifferent to my unease, and the only fact I knew about Kolb before studying her faces was that she did faces of Walt Whitman for a jazz oratorio by Fred Hersch based on Leaves of Grass, but they seemed elusive as the jazz was in my face but Whitman’s visage wasn’t on my monitor, and confronted with these strange faces of strangers occurs that Kolb’s muse in my perception could be Emily Dickinson, she who so invites your gaze to be anything but frontal, and who wrote, “Facts by our side are never sudden/Until they look around/And then they scare us like a spectre/,” and if you see Kolb’s faces as facts having a life indifferent to us, they look around, and have to admit, initially scare, though now they seem to present no reason for paranoia, they’re in that painful private reverie of self-definition in the face of cultural static known as sizing up a prospect, and you may think in my own quirky way that’s what I’m doing, sentencing an artist to the sweep of a single sentence, but what I’m after is the old-fashioned, hopelessly dated notion of “art appreciation,” without the judgments I’ll leave to those qualified to play art critic, I want to open a space for open-ended critical reflection that’s aesthetic and philosophical, meaning I’m less interested in saying that if you purchase a Marianne Kolb portrait your investment will be as sound as General Mills or Francis Bacon stock, that has to be left to those in the know, I know I’ve come to want to know these strange strangers who don’t need my approval to have a life beyond their box, that ever popular phrase “thinking outside the box” has always puzzled since everyone seems to be after someone exemplifying this which my entire life has been my form without trying, but who wants to pay, no self-pity, it’s what I have in common with Kolb’s strange strangers, and why after initial paranoia we get along, we want to be known outside of any favorite conceptual box of the moment, because there really isn’t anything strange in their or my face, we simply have no context, no meaningful background but undifferentiated light, a dialogue can erase the noise interfering with the clarity of facial features, let it begin with you, gazer, give these faces the horizon of your acceptance they hunger for
Norman Weinstein, Poet & Art Critic, Boise, ID.
Stewart Gallery, Boise, ID. Figures. October 7 – November 9, 2005.