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Joseph Walenini
"Claire Seidl at Kristin Frederickson Contemporary Art"
Abstract Art Online
February 21, 2003

Claire Seidl's paintings have been reviewed and profiled on these pages in past issues. But here is a unique opportunity to see a whole other side of her artistic endeavors with the inclusion of black and white photography. Naturally the first thing to sort out is any similarities between how the artist handles the two mediums. One major common thread is the layering of imagery. The paintings are the most obvious place for this but it is also employed, albeit subtly, in the photographs. This is primarily achieved through multiple exposures on a single print. Another similarity is the ambiguity of what the forms reference, if anything.

This is a default condition for the paintings which, although abstract, hint at an idea of landscape. Even though the photographs use recognizable imagery, Seidl handles it in a similar manner to her paintings. The edges are softened and, unless you examine the work closely, the forms dissipate into the same sort of shapes and structure found in the paintings. Then there is the dramatic application of contrast. Here the photos have the advantage over the paintings. The images push contrast through a rich array of deep blacks and bright whites with some measure of grays. But the paintings hold up their end too with the varied and spectacular contrasts available in the color combinations. Finally, each medium counters its own nature to some degree. The paintings abstractly reference a sense of place while the photos, full of recognizable imagery nevertheless read as abstractions.

As to differences, beyond what's generally obvious between the two mediums: black & white versus color, objective versus subjective viewpoints, figurative versus non-figurative imagery and machine-made versus hand-made objects, Seidl takes advantage of the strengths of each medium. A photo triptych, for example, plays with a linear sense of time and obliquely references films. This further implies some sort of narrative which is not evident in the paintings. On the other hand, the paintings leverage the subtle layering of color that only painting is capable of. This results in a particular depth of space that is not found in the photos. Each medium is comfortably situated within its typical proportions of scale. The pictures are more standardized as to size whereas the paintings span a greater range (they are both smaller and larger than the photos).

Seidl has been painting much longer than she has been taking photographs (her personal history is only about 5 years old). Still, she shows herself to be not only comfortable but quite adept with the newer medium. All of this raises a few questions: Why would a seasoned painter want to pick up the camera? Why not color photography? Has one medium affected the other? One can only speculate as to the answers but in large part the work speaks for itself.

Cleary the artist is interested in exploring territory outside the realm of painting. Black & white photography is a great vehicle for this because it sets up interesting limitations (to a painter) while opening another world of possibilities. Since Seidl has mastered color in her paintings its absence must pose a tantalizing challenge. And with the opportunity to compare both side by side you see how the painting has more affected the photography rather than the other way round.

The danger in presenting these contrasting mediums is that the differences could be too disparate, too conflicting. In this Seidl has met the challenge of presenting work that does not appear to be made by two different artists. The paintings dominate as would be expected given the artist's experience with, commitment to and focus on the medium. Also, the paintings offer the variety of size plus the quality and depth of color to steal the show a bit. However, because of the aforementioned similarities and differences between the mediums, the exhibition is all the richer for the inclusion of the photography which still manages to hold its own.