Artist Statement

In 1972, I began to work in watercolour. The scale of my early watercolours was intimate, and the medium suited my purpose. I looked at Persian painting, Tibetan tonkas, Byzantine icons and illuminated manuscripts such as the Haggadah, the Book of Kells and the Books of Hours, and how they portrayed concepts of the cosmos, levels of being, myths of origin, recordings of the seasons and cycles of life. I was trying to understand my own cosmos and how to represent it. Over the ten years that followed, I established a visual system of iconography and motifs that presented paradox and simultaneously functioned on many levels for me: psychological and personal, social and cultural, philoso­phical and metaphysical. I painted images of whole and breaking glass; twisted and loose fabric; spaces that were transparent and opaque; invented and real life forms within rigid and porous definitions.

In 1986, I began the series of life-sized watercolours that I call the “wrapped figures.” In these paintings, I used the concept of the hidden to represent the self. I represented light as material and worked with the concept of concealment as that which reveals meaning. I was thinking about camouflage and metamor­phosis in nature; and character in theatre and literature – most importantly, the idea that within the hidden there is a totality – a mystery that is tangible, sensual and able to be experienced. I titled one of my figures The Secret Woman and later read a short story by Colette. The central character of her story finds her complexity and is freed to express it through costume and disguise. Recently, I have found that the Shekhina [Presence], the feminine godhead and concealed woman of the Kabbalah, most poignantly captures the essence of these images.

In 1990, I returned to canvas for large works and painted on panel for the smaller ones. I painted images of dried and living plant forms to describe an interior world rather than to represent external nature. These gardens, in their concrete description and diversity of forms, textures and patterns, are fictions that tell stories about living things. They follow the principle that the truer the form, the more powerful the life of the formless within it. In my plant paintings, the detailed elements, crowded up at the front, are a materialization of the space behind.

My method of working is fused to the content of my painting. I work on a white surface, finishing each element before moving on to the next. There is no underpainting or sketch. Each work grows into its own presence, element by element, on an undifferentiated field.

Judy Garfin