In "Studio Wall," painter Judy Rifka clearly shows her mastery of the line in motion. She's a bit of a contradiction. At first it appears that she paints as if she might be doodling and yet behind her unorthodox positioning of human figures and offhand perspective is an opulence - a grandeur - a beauty like you find in a 1930's George Kukur film like "Romeo and Juliet.”
Rifka is an artist who uses abstraction to endear the human spirit. Here, her central figure, a clown whose face we never see, dressed in polka dots, is all of us trying to survive and trying to enjoy our unpredictable existence. This clown is very much of the mime tradition and feels a bit more European than American.
Rifka's "Studio Wall" is not that different from the Etruscan wall painting of two dancers (480 - 470 B. C.) found at the Tomb of the Lionesses at Tarquinia. Just as in Rifka's "Studio Wall," the Etruscan work shows two-dimensional dancers finding joy in their moving figures. Like Matisee, Rifka uses negative space to move her figures as the empty space moves our eyes across her image. And like Matisse, Rifka's is a negative space surrounding by curving lines.
Rifka's line which carries the initial masquerade of casual and seduces us in to an aesthetic master's lesson in "Studio Wall" relates in modern art history references to William de Kooning's lines in his 1950 oil on canvas, "Excavation." Hold a reproduction of "Excavation" up to "Studio Wall.”
But surprisingly, the artist from the 20th Century that seems to be Rifka's "brother" is Arshille Gorky. In 1944, Gorky sketched in open fields in Connecticut and Virginia. But he did not record realistic images. He doodled.
Returning to his studio, he turned his doodles into full-scale paintings with an emphasis on spontaneity and voluptuousness (Modern Art, Third Edition, Sam Hunter and John Jacobus, page 268). These are the same themes that attract us to Rifka's "Studio Wall."
Sandy Seawright is an art writer for The Charlotte Post, Charlotte, N. C.