Space is the breath of art.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Space, in the truest sense of the term, is the subject of Jill Weber’s practice. It is what gives her paintings breath. Physical, metaphorical, and spiritual space all coexist within Weber’s complex, labor intensive and precisely executed work that is both concrete and ambiguous. Beginning with the physical space of our built environment, the artist distills the essentials of architectural space — light, material, pattern, volume, solids and voids — into their essence. Each of her paintings has a sense of depth and movement that can seem disorienting, enveloping the viewer in a space that is both real and imagined. Weber directs our attention to the space contained within the canvas, as well as the space beyond the picture plane. Through veils of light and transparency that are placed against a rigid, geometric structure, she transforms the real into the metaphorical. Weber turns our perceptions about space upside down by morphing the tangible into the indefinable, asking us to confront architectural space as repositories of memory.
It is not difficult to see the relationship between Weber’s work and many movements in the history of art; Russian Constructivism, Cubism, Geometric Abstraction, and Minimalism to name a few. Weber’s work is rightly placed in this lineage. However, one important aspect of her work that is often overlooked is her starting point in a recognizable, physical architectural element. An early series was inspired by the skylights in her studio, another by the irregularly sited buildings seen every day through her home windows. This recent group of paintings was inspired by various staircases. With iPhone camera always in hand, the artist takes photographs of architectural details that intrigue, using them as the starting point for her work. The staircases are more than a means of moving from point A to point B, they can represent retreat or escape; we ascend from darkness to light, we descend into hell.
Not only can one envision Marcel Duchamp’s Nude gracefully descending Escalera Blue/ Orange, Weber’s work can also be seen in kinship with the architectural fantasies of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, specifically his Carceri d'invenzione or 'Imaginary Prisons' series. In these etchings, architecture is no longer pure facts of brick and mortar, but transformed into a dynamic, irrational and boundless space. In works such as Escalera Chance, Weber, like Piranesi, creates an active and sometimes unsettled feeling in the viewer. Disconcerting at first, we begin to sense the familiar, then slowly we feel the immeasurable pulling us into the deepest reaches of Weber’s expanse.
Because of her background in architecture, Weber’s work has an affinity with sculpture and a connection to the work of Sarah Sze (who also studied painting and architecture). This may not seem obvious, but in comparing a painting like Escalera Silver/Black/Red to Sze’s sculptures, the sense of building up and breaking apart of structure that is inherent to each artists work becomes evident. With quite different techniques each creates work that teeters between orientation and disorientation; stability and instability; gravity and weightlessness, asking us to contemplate on our place and our importance in the larger universe. For Weber the utilitarian serves as inspiration for her to turn the built world into reflections on the endless possibilities of human existence.
William Stover has been a curator of contemporary art for over 16 years.
He is currently an independent curator and consultant to private collections in New York City.