E. M. Saniga, “Plums, Pottery, and Canned Food (My Morandi),” 2016–2019, oil on panel, 13 x 15 in.
E. M. Saniga, “Plums, Pottery, and Canned Food (My Morandi),” 2016–2019, oil on panel, 13 x 15 in.

New York: Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects (SHFAP) presents “By Heart,” an exhibition of three representational painters, Susan Lichtman, Stephanie Pierce, and E. M. Saniga. Each of these painters reproduces the world around them with a highly distinct process and result.

Susan Lichtman, “Camo Jacket,” 2019, oil on canvas, 14 x 20 in.
Susan Lichtman, “Camo Jacket,” 2019, oil on canvas, 14 x 20 in.

Susan Lichtman paints her immediate reality — her house, family, and environs. Her pictures possess a quality of being fictions linked to memory. Jennine Culligan, Director of the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum, wrote, “Since 1987, the first floor of her home, her large studio a few steps away, and the daily comings and goings of her family have been her main source for compositions based on observation and imagination.” In an interview with Larry Groff of Painting Perceptions, Lichtman states, “I’ve always painted interior spaces, and am . . . influenced by all the European and American painters of domestic interiors, from the De Hooch and Vermeer to Hopper and Porter.” Lichtman is a subtle colorist, creating complex harmonies on a large scale. She has said, “To me, close-valued color is magical. It’s a way for the paint to imply the fiction of light and air.” Despite the apparently autobiographical details of her paintings, Lichtman is engaged in constructing a purely fictive space. She remarks, “Painting needs to put forth an event, or an idea, that is purely visual.”

Lichtman is the Charles Bloom Professor of Fine Arts at Brandeis University. Her recent shows include List Gallery, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA; Smith College, Northampton, MA; the Bannister Gallery at Rhode Island College; and the Lenore Gray Gallery, Providence, RI. Lichtman had a solo show spring 2017 at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University. She had her first New York City one-person show of paintings, “My House,” at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects in June 2017, and was part of the group show, “The Light of Interiors,” in July 2017.

Stephanie Pierce, “Satellites,” 2019, oil on canvas, 30 x 32 in.
Stephanie Pierce, “Satellites,” 2019, oil on canvas, 30 x 32 in.

Stephanie Pierce exhibits two new paintings that depict the windows and plants in her loft. Her plants serve as a kind of filter between the artist and her environment. Pierce moved to New York City three years ago from Arkansas to take a teaching position at FIT. Since then, she has painted New York through her windows from Staten Island to Bushwick. Her work is about a kind of steady looking that requires taking extended periods of observation.

Pierce combines layers of transparent and opaque paint to produce a shimmering optical description of place. Her images seem to be in a state of flux, assembling and disintegrating before the viewer’s eyes. Working from prolonged observation, Pierce tracks the liminal passages of light. Traces accumulate and evolve into images that threaten to lapse into abstraction. Her working process follows a similar rhythm. She explains, “It’s a continual looking, responding, destroying, renewing.”

Brett Baker wrote about her exhibition at SHFAP in 2014, “She approaches the ‘impossible’ task of capturing nature with lucid patience — a consistent, unhurried focus. . . . In her paintings, thousands of highly varied marks rise into place, each notation of light rustling gently against the next.”

Pierce was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. She obtained her MFA at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2007 she began teaching at the University of Arkansas. While she was there, she created a DIY space for art and music called Lalaland. Two years ago she took a position teaching painting in New York City at FIT. In 2014 she received the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors’ Grant. Her work was included in “Disrupted Realism” at Stanek Gallery in Philadelphia in winter 2018. She had a solo show at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, Signal, in February 2018.

E. M. Saniga has a worldview that may seem anachronistic. His 18th-century Quaker residence, the dogs and other animals that surround him, and the still lifes of local vegetables look as if they could easily exist in a different time period. And yet, it is the peculiarities of Saniga’s carefully wrought scenes that stay with us — the echo of pose between a woman and her dog as she trains him to sit, the upended pattern in a triptych of pies above a Pontormo reproduction, a dark figure of a man posed against a brilliant yellow pair of moths, and the vivid, painterly meditations on places in Italy related Corot’s plein air Italian paintings. His compositions create a dream-like impression of languor tinged with a strange undercurrent.

Saniga is simultaneously a scientist (he recently retired as the Dana Johnson Professor of Information Technology at the University of Delaware) and an artist. He was guest of honor at the Jerusalem Studio School residency program in Civita, Italy, in 2012 and had a one-person show at Rothschild Fine Art in Tel Aviv in 2018.

Though he paints from life, Saniga says, “I use everything available in making paintings. I generally start at least parts of a painting from life and then I edit using memory, photographs, or whatever else seems to help.” He also states, “Representational painting is so old-fashioned anyway, but we still do it in spite of the resistance to it in today’s world of art.” Roberta Smith wrote in the New York Times that Saniga continues “to erase the line between progressive and traditional.”

Together these three artists make a marvelous case for the vitality of painted work from life. Sparkling, unknown, intimate, and exploratory, we become privy to their understanding of place, humanity, and picture making.

For more details, please visit http://shfap.com/.

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