London native and now San Francisco Bay Area-based painter Jenny Bloomfield has described her current practice of pairing up paintings as “twinning,” a term borrowed from the study of crystal formations, and referring to instances wherein structures may grow separately, but in symmetry and with a reflecting plane in common. The shared surface that mitigates the intergrowth of two crystal lattices could stand as a corollary to the conceptual base that underpins the binding together of two otherwise independent images, although in Bloomfield’s diptychs, as if in subversion of crystalline mirroring, she will often offset her panels at the joint, or join panels of disparate size and thickness, thus to breaking the symmetry.
In modern usage, diptych has come to mean any two images intended to be viewed together. Originally, it referred specifically to a pair of painted panels connected with a hinge, allowing folding and carrying like a book. The practical point of fastening two pictures together to facilitate portability coincidentally strengthened their narrative, as traveling companions not only joined at the hip, but joined symbiotically as well, by association. The resultant continuity served the story told by the painting; it might pose a saint with a donor or a husband with a wife. Joining two abstract paintings is a greater challenge. At best it heightens the effect of each, and at worst it begs the question, why? It is just not easy to credibly graft two works that are already complete on their own. A good painting is diminished by close proximity to another; adding an appendage rarely salvages a bad one. Sometimes though, in the most successful of diptychs, Bloomfield’s for example, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The modernist impulse to present imagery contiguously is long standing, with the syntax of much of contemporary art built upon juxtaposition of one sort or another. Perhaps the most primary is the conjoining of almost anything with the meta-trope of the art world itself, a form of staging. Common objects tend to engender uncommon experiences when isolated within the white cube of the exhibition space. Much of contemporary painting is inherently self-referential and doubling down on this internal reference can introduce some welcome relief. Many painters use multi-panel formats in an effort to extend the formal range of their medium, heighten the physical presence of their work, and even with pure painting, instill a sense of grammar. Bloomfield’s motives are no exception but what distinguishes her twins might be the serendipity of their attachment, extending it would seem almost by chance the reach and impact of her gesture.
Perhaps it is because Bloomfield’s individual canvases are so lacking in guile that they play well together, as things left to themselves, just as they are. They have something about them of the perfect fit of found objects, a cowbell paired with a railroad spike or such. Hanging in the gallery, her diptychs seem to reach out and bridge the gap between the artifice of the exhibition space and the husk of the world at large, the real world where pairing happens. The twinned charm and obdurate fact of a painting such as diptcych, Tin Hat, 2016, for example, remind me of why Peter Pan had to venture back from Neverland to London to get his shadow sewn back on. In the end Bloomfield has come full circle with the basic function of her diptychs, enhancing if not their portability, then their ability to transport.
Jenny Bloomfield in her Oakland studio