Lorraine Peltz is talking about her painting Infinity, which shows seven lipsticks lined up against a pink background. "If you're a serious artist you certainly aren't making a pink painting," Peltz says, explaining that she's attempting to reclaim the color, freeing pink from its association with little girls' bedrooms. "This pink has to do with the body. It sort of looks like skin.
"My paintings require a kind of literary time," she says, likening our viewing to reading a novel. She also wants them to be "open-ended."
In Charm Bracelet, 12 different kitchen implements are arranged against a red background full of tomatoes, painted with a stencil Peltz cut from cardboard. She points out "the tomato's connection to the kitchen. Also women are sometimes called tomatoes; I've been called a tomato." The kitchen implements form "the shape of a clock, so they imply the ongoing experience that one has day and night in the home. I think it's a pleasurable painting: red, juicy." But there are so many tomatoes that "it's also kind of horrific. There's a kind of explosion of tomatoes--they're taking over."
Peltz's paintings draw from what's been traditionally called "women's work." She acknowledges being influenced by the women pattern painters of the 1970s. A feminist, Peltz says she wants "to deny the false hierarchy of home versus job forced upon women."
Peltz's work was mostly abstract when she moved here from New York in 1981 for graduate study at the U. of C. A stress on content in the art program and Chicago's weather helped make her paintings more representational: "The wind that blows in Chicago blew away all that extraneous stuff and clarified for me my agenda as a painter." Soon she painted Shoes, which depicted the same pair of her shoes that are central to her recent work Stepping Out. The shoes appear worn and "imply a body, a woman. But there's no buckle, there's no bow. They don't really tell very much about her. This is connected to why I don't paint figures." Peltz is after the essence of the object rather than showing the shoes of someone specific.
Cabbages and Queens, which shows six cabbages on a table, "actually started out as a rumination on soup. The wine-colored background comes from the color of borscht cabbage soup. My mom cooked that often. I also thought of cabbage soup as sustaining the entire Russian army in World War II." Peltz's parents are Holocaust survivors: her Polish father fought in the Russian army; her mother was in Auschwitz, liberated by the Russians. She sees "a kind of weird, unexplained drama with the cabbages, perhaps hinting at an army. This painting actually began with a pot and the accoutrements of a kitchen and two cabbages." But "painting those objects fixed it in the moment" and Peltz ended up dealing with her ideas about soup. The cabbages make long shadows on the table; the low angle of the light source "is selected to increase the drama." By tilting the table forward, "my intention is to force the viewer up into it."
Not everyone will figure all this out, but Peltz says that's fine. "I think my paintings can function on many levels, and my intention is that you can respond to them immediately in terms of color, in terms of the recognition of objects. If that's as far as you'd like to go that's OK. But if you say, "Why is this called Cabbages and Queens and why the hell are there these cabbages?' then you can start to put your own scenario together. I don't want to make the painting complete and finite. I mean to invite viewers into an examination, into an exploration, but then into their own reverie."
Peltz's paintings are on view at Gallery A, 300 W. Superior, through July 5. Gallery hours are 11 to 6 Tuesday through Friday, 11 to 5 Saturday. Call 280-4500 for more.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.