New York-based Justine Neuberger is a painter of oneiric scenarios, delivering the re-interpretations of her heritage and tradition in her art forms. Offered as archetypes, the images she grew up with glimmer with the nebulosity of dreams, and remain sparsely realistic before a hazy backdrop.
Neuberger was recently featured in the ARTUNER curation Uno Nessuno Centomila, which took place in Turin, Italy in November 2021, and saw her two paintings Scroll of Fire (After Bialik) and Ginko Leaves. The two artworks offered an introspective beginning to the exhibition and its topic surrounding the self, the other, and the crowd; the actualisation of the self in society starts, at first, within the mind. Observing Justine Neuberger’s paintings, indeed, feels like stepping within the psyche, introducing the mechanics of one’s traditions and ethics within the scope of a crowd.
Reminiscent of the wanderer above the sea of fog, Justine’s compositions lets the viewer observe the blind mist of her compositions as the images progressively reveal themselves; the viewer thus delves into the mist, seeking clarity within the clouded canvases. The romanticism of her art finds roots within the cherishing of traditions; she observes the past from a view askew and offers it a new mesmerizing appearance.
Borrowing painting techniques from renaissance and folk art, Neuberger dedicates great attention to details; the precision to miniatures opposes the overpowering megalomania, pressing for progress and innovation that threatens tradition.
Deep within the swirling mist within her art, there is a pulsing guiding light luring the viewers within. The paintings are enveloped with an impossible desire to know the world, as the artist defines it. Justine’s paintbrush paints the will to hold the world in her hand and entertain the possibility of utopia provided by stories and fables, traditions offering closure, stability and virtue.
Scroll of Fire (After Bialik), 2020
Oil On Canvas
182 × 86 Cm
Scroll of Fire (after Bialik) is titled after the prose poem by Hayim Nahman Bialik. In this poem, Bialik is concerned with the question of how the ageing tradition of Judaism could survive in a rapidly industrializing society. The poem is written in ancient Hebrew, in the form of a biblical epic, about modern themes of identity, narrative and nationalism. The matching of these traditional forms of poetry with modern themes creates a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity.
Testament to the duality of light and darkness, “Scroll of Fire (after Bialik)”, 2020, is built on a vertical axis that favours the encounter of the two opposites. The composition unravels on a loose canvas, which evokes scrolls and tapestries. The appearing images almost act like keywords that anchor a narrative on the canvas. Following the realm of dreams, the elements flash in the haze and feel disconnected, deliberately losing a sense of cohesive narrative and timeline. In the words of the artist: I borrow the motif of the eternal flame from Bialik. It is a Kabbalistic symbol of justice, falling from heaven with the potential both to sustain and destroy life. In the uppermost register of the painting, children jump rope and emerge from the smoke and hold hands to form a circle.
The smaller girl can be seen skipping the rope just below the circle, glowing with a fire of her own – feeding life or destruction, both extremes in the same line of sight as the child, symbol of innocence, counteract the image of the falling of a plane. The line connecting them is an axis of time that rebounds and becomes a circle. There is no extinguishment in this fire, but an expectation, a ritualistic encounter that never fails. The eternal return thus becomes an eternal being, transformed and on the path of becoming something new.
“Ginko Leaves“, 2020
Oil On Canvas
182 × 86 Cm
Ginko Leaves is a bit dreamier.
The yellow angel figure is the first to address the viewer, welcoming them to the composition amongst a fluttering of golden ginko leaves. Although her demeanour is delicate and contained her features connect the viewer to the Renaissance flatness, feeling cold and detached. Comforting like a stranger’s mother, she approaches the comfort-seeking inner child, leading it through the composition of the image. When looking at this individual, Neuberger identifies her as an angel, somebody that poses as a guide but that at the same time is cold, scary in its being unknown.
In the middle register, there is a chaotic scene. Waves crash onto a boat and a troupe of musicians in green and red add to the cacophony by playing the flute and crashing cymbals. The passage through this step feels torturous and yet finds a point of stillness; the leader of the procession is a Janus-faced woman, which, in her intrinsic duality, stands at the core of the painting like the eye of a hurricane.
Emerging from this scene, the uppermost register of the painting is soft and light; it outlines imagery of rescue and safety, distilling them after assimilating the heavily saturated bottom register of the painting. Almost like memories, they act like images of another time, the collective knowledge of safety: a young lifeguard pulls a child out of the water, a father carries his daughter on his back.
In the cloudiness of Justine Neuberger’s art, viewers can find clarity; in the same canvas, oxymorons become explained myths and stories, and longing for comfort becomes completion, beatitude, elation.