George Lawson Gallery, Emeryville
Originally from New York, San Francisco-based painter Johanna Baruch has been occupied for the last nine years with a series of meticulously crafted, jewel-surfaced paintings inspired by images of the deep reaches of outer space: stylized renderings of star clusters, novae, floating giants and celestial dust. It has grown into a substantial body of work, to date limited in exposure to the San Francisco Bay Area, but starting to gain a wider audience.
Baruch uses the groundbreaking images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope as a catalyst, with license, and reinterprets them. She paints in translucent oil and alkyd glazes on smooth grounds, aluminum or wood panels, building up images of luminescent gloss, saturated color, and depth. She uses the undertones of the oil medium to the same effect that Van Eyck did when oils were a technical breakthrough: that is, to intimate through their transparency the overlap of the visual and the envisioned worlds, the place where spirit and matter meet. In her own words:
When I first saw the photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, it was as if I had suddenly found something I knew intimately, yet didn’t know I had lost. The beauty, color and movement, the science and ultimate mystery of the cosmos were like songs that called to be sung.
I do not paint the cosmos literally, but study the science and look at the photographs until something hits me viscerally, whether the spectacular images of what the telescope captures, such as swirling nebulae, stars being born, galaxies colliding or supernovae exploding; or more theoretical concepts such as black holes, dark energy, the big bang or the cosmic web. These all live as a moving force inside me that guides me, and directs my choices.