Dark Narratives and Cinematic Fantasy in an Artist’s Brooding Landscapes

For his fourth solo exhibition at Arcadia Contemporary in New York, Aron Wiesenfeld presents a new series of oil paintings entitled “Solstice.” Wiesenfeld’s detailed, imaginative oil paintings depict scenes laced with narrative dynamism, sharing mysteries and fantasies with the viewer. As the artist explains, solstices “are days that mark a change of season, a key factor in each painting. Trees and foliage, and the mood brought by impending changes are central to all the works, even more than the people, which tend to be smaller in scale than in many of my previous paintings.” 

Solstices also mark changes in light with the sun’s yearly zenith and nadir, corresponding to the longest and shortest days. Wiesenfeld uses light to conjure atmospheric and emotional valences in his work. In November (2014), he depicts a train stopped in the middle of a snowy wood. The entire image glows under a sky illuminated in dusky pinks and purples. A crowd of ghostly figures in flowing robes passes by the train under barren trees; their backs are to the viewer, a device that Wiesenfeld adapts from the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, who used it to draw viewers into his paintings’ narrative flow. Here, Wiesenfeld uses the procession to direct our eyes across and into the picture plane.

As in November, many of Wiesenfeld’s pictures pose wondrous and inscrutable stories to viewers. In several images, contemporary elements are depicted, such as the train in November, or, in the case of The Orchard (2014), power lines; in the background of the latter, a group of picnickers can be spotted in the far background, positioned similarly to those in Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863). They are not, however, the focus of the painting; rather, the eeriness of the landscape, which at first glance appears mundane, is the true subject. The orchard is blanketed with lush vegetation and the fruits of its trees, and yet the trees are naked. The presence of so much perfect fruit feels supernatural, rendering the orchard an idyll spiked with enigmatic contradictions.

Even the least supernatural of Wiesenfeld’s paintings retains an air of magic through his use of color. In The Bride (2014), a gloomy sky looms above a strange, de Chirico-like landscape, forested by pink and purple trees that add heightened curiosity to the picture’s implied narrative. The artist’s employment of a sort of cinematic fantasy and quality of strangeness lead the viewer to ponder what will happen next.

Aron Wiesenfeld” is on view at Arcadia Contemporary, New York, Sep. 18th – Oct. 3rd, 2014.

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