What Remains

By Amy Ritchie

Richmond Arts Review / May 23, 2013

Cindy Neuschwander died prematurely last fall. She spent the last ten years of her life making purposeful art. Paintings, drawings, some sculpture; these grew out of a background in photography, an insatiable passion for questions, the impulse to create meaningful objects, and the love story between her and her husband Jay Barrows, curator of the Sydney and Frances Lewis Collection. Some of these last statements are basic facts, others hearsay, but the veracity remains the same, because when a life is well lived the truth finds you. Truth Finds You is a recently published monograph of Neuschwander’s paintings; a project realized by Barrows along with Charley Foley and Angeline Robertson of Scout Design.

The book mimics the square format of many of Neuschwander’s works, particularly the 6 x 6” painting series she made in her last months. Coda 1, 2, and 3 are comprised of 72 paintings, just shy of the 100 she intended. In the book’s essay, Marilyn Zeitlin specifies the import of this final body of work:

“They form a coda of her work from 2001–2012 and also show that she was experimenting with new ideas, writing them into these works like a series of promises she would have loved to keep. She revisits the stripe paintings of 2006; the grid from 2008; the organic forms of 2007, including the egg which has now become a cluster of ovals; the solid areas defined by overlapping forms from 2009; the surfaces built up by layers of gestural marks from early in her output and then again in 2011. In these last works, perhaps racing to make notes for future works that would not be developed, she introduces new forms–a blue floral figure with encroaching yellow lobes, a whitish square sutured to its background with red lines.” (p 9)

It’s a pleasure to follow the cyclical nature of Neuschwander’s artistic development through the mostly-chronological and exceptionally large plates included in this book. A playful yet serious tone pervades the paintings, akin to what Buddhists refer to as holding on loosely. That loose-hold “middle way” allows for determination and intention as well as mistake and mystery. Just so, there is an openness to Neuschwander’s paintings on the whole, even those that are clearly trudging through some dark waters, like Drowning, 2011 (p 114) and Essence of Perception (p 50), a violent painting incised with bloody surface wounds, as if she was making a desperate effort to control the uncontrollable.

That painting is from 2006. By 2010–11 (pgs 102–113), Neuschwander had settled in with her power. The paintings are 14 to 20” square wood panels of oil and cold wax, with side depths from 3 to 5 inches being worked as importantly as the frontal plane. The colors veer neutral with lush texture and intricate marks. These pieces are certainly influenced by, but not derivative of, Cy Twombly’s calligraphic mark-making.

With Lace, 2011 (p 113) the magnificent airiness and delicacy notable of Neuschwander’s drawings on paper are present in object form. The deep innards of the painting open with one black sliver, spilling out in those delicate but decidedly powerful dark marks that come directly from a human being alive and co-creating with the transient material world. She addresses this particularly material world within the single artist quote included in the book:

“Rubbed, pigmented, and rubbed again, erased passages can resemble pocked stone or a distant space. Marks drawn with a blade come and go, gestures thin as hair, surprise elements that ask for intimacy and synthesis. What remains is evidence of a desire to lay bare moments of authenticity.”