CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS, ARTISTS JOEL JANOWITZ USES QUIET COLORS LAID DOWN WITH ENERGETIC BRUSHSTROKES I PAINTINGS THAT EVOKE SMALL MOMENTS BETWEEN CALM AND COMMOTION.
RHYTHMS OF LIFE from New England Home 2012
TEXT BY LOUIS POSTEL | PORTRAIT BY WEBB CHAPPELL
Victoria Munroe was having an omelet at the empire Diner in New York near her Chelsea-area gallery (her other self –named gallery is on Boston’s Newbury Street).
All of a sudden a wind came up, flinging across Tenth Avenue all the plastic chairs that had moments before been sitting peaceably on the sidewalk, hurling them this way and that. | This happened, Munroe recalls the day she was setting up a show for one of her leading Boston artists, Joel Janowitz, and the timing proved interesting because Janowitz had just completed a number of Empire Diner paintings with just those windy distortions and energy swirls.
Indeed, Munroe’s interrupted omelet there at things — how we think while we are looking,” says Munroe.
Janowitz’s style also encompasses how he’s thinking. The blown-out lettering of the word “Empire,” for example, is at least partially his response to painting while at the same listening to a radio show about the occupation of Iraq.
Not getting stale, thinking, thinking, and never repeating, never parodying himself – those are the main challenges for the sixty-one-year old Janowitz. Galleries across the country send him list of painting’s clients what that are similar to paintings he’s done before: another Venetian Café, another Empire Diner, another porch and parking lot but when he’s done, he’s done, he says.
Though these canvases would fetch between $6,000 and $16,000 Janowitz is happily at the point at the point of his career when he can afford to say no and moved on to new subjects. Adds gallery owner Munroe, “Joel keeps travelling in order to find these particular charged places he enjoys being in.”
The artist challenges himself both in his subject matter and his technique, Munroe says. “He’s pushing himself in many media all the time: his monotypes, watercolors and charcoals are always feeding his approach to his painting. The brayers –or small rollers — he use to make prints you can now see right on his canvases along with traditional brushstrokes.”
Recently separated amicably enough from his wife, interior designer Sarah Wainwright , Janowitz, who teaches painting at Wellesley College, just moved to Cambridge. What he refers to as his refuge is his studio on Wareham Street in Boston’s South End, a neighborhood that’s seen a recent influx of stylish storefronts.
Tacked up on Janowitz’s studio walls is a series of monotypes of a hammock with a red pillow has a blood-like spot pooling on the floor; another has no pillow and, as though to compensate, a great wash of summer light.
Let no one confuse these with “reproductions.” These prints are all unique and, at $2,200 each, would seem a good place for people to start collecting Janowitz.
The porch where the hammock hangs, by the way, is on Great Neck Island, Maine, in a house once owned by artist Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) and where Janowitz now frequently summers. “It’s compelling to realize both artists shared the same views,” says Munroe.
Under the tacked-up monotypes, Janowitz has set for priming a huge, just-stretched canvas. He’s planning on doing something really large, something you can walk into.
To be sure, however, Janowitz didn’t always live large. Life started in a one-bedroom apartment over his father’s toy store in East Patterson, New Jersey. His father an uncle, a photographer, found the time to visit museums in the city, the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art, and would take young Joel along with them. “They’d chortle at the Picassos but were still intrigued,” says Janowitz.”[My father] wanted me to be a doctor;fortunately my brother became one an got me off the hook.”
In his lower-middle-class high school a rare window opened. An art teacher who had studied with uber-artist Robert Motherwell held a special after-school class in abstract art for the four or five kids who were interested.
“We’d paint, read Sartre and Camus.” Janowitz recalls. The boy was hooked.
At Brandeis as an undergraduate, Janowitz romance with abstraction was further inflamed by a Franz Kline show at the university’s Rose Museum. Rather than simply depicting a scene, Kline, he felt, was heroically showing great emotion almost in a pure state.
This was at the time when critics such as Clement Greenberg were championing abstract art, the necessity of being true to the flat picture plane. But for some reason Janowitz couldn’t completely accept the premise, no matter how much he admired Kline. “I didn’t know why I should give up the believability of three dimensions,” he says. “And that got me into some trouble with the powers that be.”
Except for some notable exceptions: “More pink…more pink!” his Brandeis art teacher Philip Guston used to say to him. Janowitz recalls that the great man was rather pink himself: florid, bold and intense in his loves and hates. “ His passion came through in everything. For Guston searching was always much more important than finding.”
It’s the same for Janowitz today, many years later. Putting a name to a thing, he tells his Wellesley students, kills your thinking about, prevents you from seeing it freshly. To see and name things such as a chair, a lake, a cloud puts an end to the ongoing search Guston urged on Janowitz. Instead of a lake and a cloud and a chair, see the curve of the lake, the curve of the cloud and the curve of the chair all in some kind of rhythm with each other. It’s the artist’s job, he says, to find those inter-relationships, those ongoing life rhythms of shape and color. Janowitz big stretched canvas awaits him. NEH
EDITOR”S NOTE Joel Janowitz is represented by Victoria Munroe Fine Art, 179 Newbury St. Boston (617) 523-0661. www.victoriamunroefineart.com. To see more of Janowitz’s work, go to www.joeljanowitz.com