Complexity is only the multiplicity of simplicity
Barbi Leifert is the art lover’s artist because her paintings stand at the crossroads of multiple styles of art. She classifies her art as abstract expressionism. Far be it from me to argue with an artist about his or her own art, but a Leifert painting simply doesn’t “fit” nicely into any one category. It is, indeed, clearly abstract expressionism, but it is also just expressionism and there are clear elements of post-impressionism as well. It is this combination of style and form that gives Leifert’s art a powerful sense of texture and complexity that comes from these other styles.
In order to see how the other styles of art apply to Leifert’s work, it will be necessary to review each style that her art exemplifies, give some examples of these styles in their purer forms, and show how each applies to Leifert. Starting, then, in reverse order, what exactly is post-impressionism? This is a movement in art that was the immediate descendant of impressionism, which was an attempt to portray on canvas what a person might see if he caught only a glimpse—an impression—of something. While impressionism’s focus was on high fashion and urban settings, post-impressionist artists, such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, and Georges Surat, began to move away from urbanity into more rural settings with more personal, even intimate scenes. AAA member, Erin Hanson, seems to follow suit in this vein. In addition, post-impressionists experimented using colour and setting with greater emphasis on symbolism, so the post-impressionists had greater liberality in what they painted, offering a greater focus on the inner emotional workings of the artists themselves.
Post Impressionism Examples, article continues below – click each image to see large view and details
It takes only a quick survey of Leifert’s work to see the elements of post-impressionism. When you examine an image such as “High Spirits,” an image of a man on horseback, we have a highly personal account that gives us the impression—less than distinct—of the man an horse. It is a rural setting and the colours are far from literal. They are enough, however, to give the viewer the distinct sense that a life on the back of a horse is never a wasted life. The colour palate Leifert uses exudes pure pleasure in riding horseback. But even this painting isn’t only post-impressionist; it also has elements of expressionism.
Expressionism is an artistic style that is something of a third generation form of impressionism—an offspring of post-impressionism. It is not just abstract art, and it’s not just Expressionism. It is a style in which the emotional component of a scene is emphasized over the visual reality of the scene; the artists, those such as Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, Marc Chagal, Wassily Kandinsky and AAA’s own Dasmang (Gary Aitken), attempt to convey what he or she feels over what he or she sees. Colour in expressionism can be used symbolically and scenes and settings are less literal than in other styles of art.
Expressionism examples, article continues below – click each image to see large view and details
When we consider Leifert’s painting, “The Wave,” which depicts a young swimmer in mid, under-water flip, we can see these expressionist elements vividly. Expressionism conveys emotion, and the viewer of “The Wave” can sense—in the relaxed but clearly practiced posture, in the fluidity of her movement, in the sheer act of swimming—the joy that this person receives from her immersion in water.
The colour becomes symbolic as well. There is a great deal of blue in the water, clearly symbolic, in this case, of the water itself, and so the blue area around the girl’s body suggests the water in which the girl swims, and is reinforced by the title of the painting itself. But even a quick impression of the painting reveals that the majority of the girl’s body is also blue. What can that suggest? A great many things, but before we discuss what it might symbolize, let’s note that, while blue in expressionism often symbolizes despair or grief, it is not used so here. The rest of the palate that Leifert chose for this painting gives only a sense of joy and happiness; there is nothing negative in this painting. So, what does the blue suggest? Let’s remember that the human body is composed primarily of water; the blue of the painting could suggest that. The blue could be a suggestion of the movement of the girl in the water, to express her skill as a swimmer. But when I consider the sense of pure delight that I perceive when I view this painting, I conclude that this girl is so at home in the water—perhaps having grown up near a lake or ocean, perhaps just enjoying the sensations that only the water can give—I conclude that the blue suggests that, in heart, in mind, in soul, this girl and the water are virtually one and the same.
This brings us to Barbi Leifert’s own description of her art: abstract expressionism. As the name suggests, abstract expressionism is related to expressionism. Think of it as a grandchild of impressionism with several “greats” before it. In as much as it is an expression of the artist’s own emotions, abstract expressionism has much similarity to expressionism; the main difference is that, in expressionism, there is still a scene depicted; there are still characters or some sort of image on the canvas that is visually recognizable for the viewer. And, since there is something visually understood, that, by default, also gives the paintings positive and negative spaces, positive space being the focus of the painting, and negative space being everything that is not the focus, and generally, where there is very little detail on the canvas. Abstract expressionism removes anything central; there is no area of focus. The entire canvas is covered in colour and drippings and brush strokes and any other manner of applying pigment, but without there being a centre.
A true pioneer of this style is Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), whose “Number One” is shown below. Since his time, however, the style of abstract expressionism has blossomed and is still vital and relevant to the world of art today. Even AAA’s Evie Zimmer’s bright and glorious happy paintings are mostly abstract expressionism. One of Barbi Leifert’s one paintings, “Grand Jete,” is abstract expressionism in a purer form, but this is where Leifert’s work becomes exciting: It may very well be that Leifert’s abstract expressionism may do “damage” (and I use the term loosely) to the definition of that style. That is to say, in order to accept Leifert’s art into the realm of abstract expressionism, we may have to adjust our understanding of the style a bit. But the addition of new dimension in its application are well worth the inclusion with a warm welcome.
Abstract Expressionism examples, article continues below – click each image to see large view and details
Looking closely at Leifert’s “Posing and Jiving,” we can see that the painting is, in one sense, really two abstract expressionist paintings, one over the other. I don’t mean to suggest that this is Liefert’s technique at all, but whether it is or not is not important. It appears, though, that Leifert begins by making one painting on a canvas, then covers a portion or portions with cut-out masks and paints a second one over the first. When the masks are pulled away, excerpts from the first painting are revealed, and these excerpts become the figures of the painting. It is abstract expressionism times two.
So, since there is an image, or, in this case, since there are images on the canvas, we have negative and positive space, which denies part of the definition of abstract expressionism: where we are told that there is no focal point. However, given that art is an ever evolving and utterly necessary part of the human condition, there is no way to eliminate Leifert’s work from this category, and who would want to? Leifert’s work is adding an entirely comprehensible complexity to three other styles of art that, in and of themselves are not really any more simple, but are yet mere components of Leifert’s art. Her art, then, is a visual paradox all on its own. That by itself gives viewers reason to step back and take it all in.
A. J. Mittendorf is a published author with two books to his credit, the second of which is to be released in July, 2016. It is called, “Carnival of the Animals.” It is a collection of fables in verse that have each been inspired by the music of composer Camille Saint-Saens- -music of the same name as A. J.’s book.