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Three Paintings: A Decade in the Life of Shirley Goldfarb

Shirley Goldfarb, like other American artists working in Paris at the time, had distanced herself from abstract expressionism by the mid-Sixties and found her own unique voice. She applied paint with increasingly small, more controlled gestures. “I’ve forgotten all that impressionism, all that tachism, all that expressionism,” Goldfarb said in an interview with Michel Sicard. “Now I need to walk across the canvas, one step after another. It’s like writing a long letter.”

Her personal need for order played out increasingly on canvas as hundreds, perhaps thousands of individual touches with a palette knife organized themselves into a painterly grid, and her work began its reductive march toward a monochromatic palette. She painted “Lime and Purple” (1967) during a return to the United States to teach at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with her husband Gregory Masurovsky. The school year culminated in a well-received exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The painting “Chartres” (1971) is part of another series begun in Minnesota and completed in Paris. In it, dabs of color dance atop a black under painting like city lights against the night sky. They reflect the residual optimism that briefly followed Goldfarb’s return from America and the glittering distraction of the café crowd whose entrances and exits she recorded in a journal by day and whose soirees she attended at night. She was often an uninvited yet anticipated guest.

In 1977, Shirley Goldfarb completed only one major painting, some days applying only three or four touches of color taken directly from the tube, other days working for several hours. A personal meditation as well as a work of art, “1977” was succeeded by paintings produced even as the artist received treatment for ovarian cancer. She died in her atelier on September 28, 1980 at the age of 55.

--Rebecca Cohen, currently working on a biography of Shirley Goldfarb

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