an internationally acknowledged mastery of cloisonne enameling technique,
for three decades Colette brought an unyielding aspiration—to
convey essential emotional truths. Within inexorable limits of scale
and material in an intensely compressed form, using a vocabulary
of recurring symbols and ideograms, this self-taught artist’s
sculpture and jewelry were recognizably the work of a painter. Layers
of fused glass applied with brushes in these miniature canvases;
recurring symbols of jeopardy, loss, and love as well as a sometimes
indecipherable script. Acquired by major museums and collectors,
in 1978 Colette’s disturbingly beautiful visual art received
the Prix d’honneur at the Limoges Biennale.
A decade ago, embracing metamorphosis, Colette resumed painting,
which for her was a necessary change of scale. Constants: brush;
layering of color. Figures from the cloisonne persisted—cats,
birds, bull's eyes—but as if in inverse proportion to space
available: the number of forms was reduced, and in the recent large
paintings there is often only one riveting, absolutely still figure.
What the artist has always been compelled to respond to, insist
on. The excluded; the dispossessed. Animals as throwaway. Coyotes,
for instance: our centuries-long effort to eradicate such brilliantly
resourceful creatures. Confronting these paintings, we sense the
coyotes are life size, but see also that they are portrayed alone
and in stasis. In jeopardy, that is: up against a profound darkness.
What we look hard at, they say, looks back hard at us. These coyotes
take us in, not with what Twain misread as “a furtive and
evil eye,” but rather with the amber iris and dark pupil Colette
has rendered so hauntingly. This gaze—the coyote’s,
and the painter’s—takes our measure, knows us for what
we are. Reveals us to ourselves.
Awarded Guggenheim, Fulbright, Rockefeller, and National Endowment
Thomas Farber teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.
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