The balance in the paradox: Glantzman explores the undefinable


“Untitled,” 1996. Super sculpey. 5½ x 8½ x 3”

Joanna Hamer | Staff Writer

At the center of each piece of art is a paradox, a tension between two opposing forces that simultaneously negate and define each other.

“Yin-yang is a good way to describe it,” said Judy Glantzman, a painter teaching at the School of Art this week. “One thing is a negative space for the other. There’s a perpetual back-and-forth, and in that, there’s a space for meaning.”

Glantzman is speaking at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hultquist Center, giving a talk she has never before given.

“I’ll just put up image after image and try to use visual information to tell you what that means to me,” she said.

She will not structure her talk chronologically or thematically, but rather will use the assorted slides to prove her belief that the balance of a paradox is at the heart of all work.

Glantzman teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she received her undergraduate degree in fine arts. Originally from Long Island, she began coming to Chautauqua to teach in the School of Art in 1989. After having spent several summers away, she is back for the first time in 10 years.

“Honestly, it’s remarkably the same in a very sweet way,” Glantzman said.

But her School of Art students’ class is anything but the same.

“I don’t want everybody to do the same thing, because I am confident that if everybody does the same thing, they will not yield individual results,” she said. “I don’t think everyone needs to learn about gravity, because if everyone learned about gravity, then no one would make sculptures without gravity.”

Glantzman espouses an open approach to teaching, dwelling on the skills or interests of her individual students.

“I’m trying to give the trellis to support their vine. And if you choose a big trellis or a little trellis, it’s going to dictate what kind of vine it is,” she said. “You don’t say a big trellis is better or worse — it would be really great to say, ‘Look what happens when the trellis is little.’”

Teaching helps Glantzman to put words around the ideas she paints, and painting helps her understand the paradoxes she wants to explore in the classroom. On the first day of class, she assigned her students atypical homework: to make five images that explore a polarity.

“You go from black and white to white and black, and you go through all the stages in between,” she said. “So you take this idea and you try, in very small incremental stages, to riff on it, to understand what it is.”

That inversion of contrast — whether in materials, size, color, subject, realism of representation or any number of other specifiable qualities — provides a process to dig into Glantzman’s idea of paradox.

It is like balancing in the middle of a see-saw, she said. You hold both ideas in your mind, and both are true, but for one fleeting minute, you are suspended between the two poles, accepting both and understanding where they meet.

“The question the student is asking is ‘What does decay look like?’” she said, “and while they focus on this question, the real question of mortality might be being examined, on an unconscious level.”

Glantzman’s own work combines horror with attraction, containing representational images in an abstract and detached setting.

“The imagery is often jarring and disturbing, but the way that it’s made is different — maybe the colors are seductive,” she said.

Those abutting and contrasting elements found a particular voice in her newest work, the War Series, inspired by seeing Picasso’s “Guernica” on a residency in Spain. She combines ephemera of war, such as guns, teeth and bones, with a physical sensation of disturbance and rupture embodied in her layers of torn paper collaged and torn again.

“My process is as if I am in battle with the drawings,” Glantzman said in an artist’s statement for the work.

The chance to portray something unfamiliar helped Glantzman to step outside herself, to visualize from a close vantage point the pull between diametrically opposed poles too distant to see.

“Like not being able to smell your own smell, the physical manifestation of the artwork allows the artist to externalize and examine the ‘stars align’ moment that has somehow captured the fleeting moment of clarity,” she said.

Glantzman said she believes art answers no questions and illustrates no ideas, but only raises more questions and presenting metaphors to outline a truth that can only be understood circumspectly and temporarily.

“The truth is fleeting and by nature indefinable,” she said. “As an artist, though articulating the opposites, the two sides of a coin, the impossible to coexist, we make a space for the unspeakable.”