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Posted on Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 5:19 a.m.

U-M Health System showcasing floral works of Joyce Lieberman

By John Carlos Cantu

Finding the universal in the everyday isn’t an easy task for any artist, but Joyce Lieberman hasn’t had to look any further than her own garden to find her inspiration.

Transferring her love of flowers to her table top and transferring that table top to a series of vibrant expressive paintings allows Lieberman’s “Gardens: UNstill Life Acrylic Paintings” at the University of Michigan Hospital to mature into full cosmic bloom.

As this Venice, Calif.-based painter with U-M undergraduate roots says of her Gifts of Art exhibit, “Flowers are pretty. Their bright flashes of color as they bloom represent the best part of the life cycle. They show promise and hope.”

Yes, they do. But this is also, obviously, a lot of weight for a delicate subject to bear. Lieberman’s display of seven oversized paintings in the U-M Hospital’s spacious entry level showcase is meant to shoulder this burden. For each painting—some as large as an oversized five by four foot—is an expressionist’s delight due to its rich, multihued intensity.



“With this series of paintings,” she says, “I compress beauty of the world into a focused arrangement of flowers, while pushing the spinning complexities of life out to their border.

“There’s an abstracted peripheral complexity here,” Lieberman concludes, “but my aim is to provide a focal point—a lively-yet-calming place where the viewer can rest. I believe if you can engage the power of focus, the rest of the world’s spinning becomes more manageable and less urgent, while the power of art becomes more persuasive and transformative.”

This is an interesting artistic strategy, since the floral genre has tropes that any enterprising talent has to follow, whether with fidelity or transgression.

Among the floral genre restrictions is the balance of palette as weighed against the work’s essential compositional structure. Lieberman’s acrylics allow her to expressively vary the appearance of her work while also reworking her chosen motif.

Working in palettes that can range from contrasting primaries to complementary color schemes, Lieberman varies the tenor of her work. Each work features an arrangement where a vase sits at the center of composition with the flowers jutting forth. She thereby harnesses her penchant for color through a strategy that’s unusually dynamic, given her genre’s constraint.

Two five- by four-foot paintings—“Genie’s Garden” and “Sunset”—illustrate Lieberman’s varying strategy. Both paintings feature a vase set on a table with blooming flowers. But “Genie’s Garden” has a relatively complementary palette whose range animates its pink vase set against a mottled border, while the flowers themselves serve to supplement the painting’s internal harmony.

“Sunset,” by contrast, is far more abstract, with undulating pigments swirling around equally abstract red blossoms in the work’s center. Where some Lieberman paintings tend to abstract the table upon which the flowers and vase sit, she’s instead carefully articulated its design in this instance, thereby making the painting exceedingly fluid.

Lieberman’s “Celestial Nosegay” is the exhibit’s masterwork, where she pulls together all the tricks of her trade to craft what is seemingly a final observation. Indeed, “Celestial Nosegay” tells us everything she’s intended with this exhibit. Her essential optimism is illustrated by a tablecloth that looks like a globe. The painting’s centered blue vase is set against an equally rich blue sky. It features a lively arrangement of purple flowers set against foreground turquoise daubs. These explosive acrylic dashes and daubs create a chromatic tension—the restless motion that must mingle artistically to create the origin of life.

Granted, this is all rather astronomic for the humble floral genre; but then again, it’s the joyful artwork that so readily crystalizes an artist’s intent. And in this regard, Lieberman’s “Celestial Nosegay” does the job quite well.

“Gardens: UNstill Life Acrylic Paintings” will continue through Feb. 6 at the University of Michigan Health System Gifts of Art Gallery—University Hospital Main Lobby, Floor 1, 1500 E. Medical Center Dr. Gallery hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. For information, call 734-936-ARTS.