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Laura Shechter: Recent Oils, Watercolors, and Drawings

September 6 to October 6, 1991

Marsh Art Gallery


For painter Laura Shechter the subject of still life is one that is charged with deep significance. Since the 1970s she has explored the manifold complexities of form and idea it necessarily involves for her with considerable success. As one of this country's leading interpreters of still life's revelatory aspects, Shechter has specialized in bringing out the subject's rich potentials for meditative and symbolic statement with a refreshing directness that is distinctively American in the emphasis on the special illuminating role played by the element of light. With a nod in the direction of the American tradition of trompe l'oeil still life made famous by the likes of Harnett and Peto, Shechter has developed a unique style and approach for conveying what she finds to be the truth about the perceptual experience of things.

While grounded in appearance, her method is also conceptually based, with still life conceived as a kind of mediating dimension between what might be called the forces of objectivity and subjectivity. At first glance paintings such as Still Life With a Light Blue Marble, 1988; Red Hearts and Red Flowers, 1989; The Emerald Fish, I 990; and Still Life on a Blue Shawl, 1991, seem to be "picture perfect". That is, the tendency is to see these compositions as true, the precise rendering as a copy of reality, a facsimile. And yet the more time spent perusing the individual items and arrangements, the greater the awareness becomes of the determining hand the artist has taken in each of these works. From the initial setup to the subtle simplification of form by the elimination of certain details and heightening of others, Shechter is in full control. In other words, far from offering any photographic-like imitation of reality, she is calling all the shots. What she is providing is a sophisticated reconstitution of reality in terms of how form is defined by a moment of light.

Through such devices as the use of shallow space and narrow horizontal support, Shechter lays in a structure with an integrity about it that allows it to serve in planar terms as a dynamic foil to the things displayed on it. The stark frontality, the perspectival disposition both of table or shelf and objects, these contribute to the strong sense of organization, of the need to confer order summed up by the sayings "Things in their place", "A place for things" that is an important part of the pleasure of viewing these works.

As for the nature of the things Shechter has chosen to render, they are decidedly of the domestic and personal variety, article indicative of the intimate side of life. The tablecloths and objects like the Navaho bowl are reflective of the artist's growing concern with decoration and the special cultural meaning carried by certain objects in particular items designated by the term trophies.

In the paintings, Shechter' mastery of the luminous and tactile properties of oil pigment makes for surfaces with an allover evenness that spreads an aura of harmony across the image. In essence, what this does is to soften any hardness implicit in the clearly rendered details and shapes. In the meticulously executed black and white drawings showing Shechter's peerless draftsmanship, tonal relationships serve the same ends. In both the paintings and watercolors color functions emotively to trigger associations with the composition.

For example, perhaps the distinctive shade of blue in Still Life on a Blue Shawl will bring back memories of someone who wore such a piece. Or the shape of the pitcher in Still Life With a Yellow Milk Pitcher will invite recollections of a breakfast from long ago.

In focusing on optical/visual sensations, on the look of things and the looking that goes on at them whether the latter is through some three-point perspective system or through the special screening device that is the mind's eye, Laura Shechter demonstrates how well suited a subject still life is for taking stock of the power of sight.

Ronny H. Cohen, Ph.D.

Publication Date



University of Richmond Museums


Richmond, VA; Manitowoc, WI


Laura Shechter, watercolors, paintings, still life, drawings, Marsh Art Gallery, Rahr-West Art Museum, University of Richmond Museum


Art and Design | Fine Arts | Painting

Laura Shechter: Recent Oils, Watercolors, and Drawings