COLETTE: Beneath The Surface

To 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.

Thomas Farbers' essay was written in August 2002 to accompany Colettes' solo exhibition at the Tercera Gallery in San Francisco.
A 12 page catalogue is available...7 color pages.

Thomas Farber 2002
Awarded Guggenheim, Fulbright, Rockefeller, and National Endowment fellowships,
Thomas Farber teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.

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