Megan Pelson '17
What is it about Tula Telfair’s A World of Dreams exhibition that has been jarring to viewers? Is it the capacious canvases that intimidatingly hang on the gallery’s walls? Is it the vibrancy of the colors—from the deepest magentas to the most midnight of blues—that render one speechless? Or is it the question she poses in her work? Telfair’s exhibit, now on view in the Zilkha Gallery, asks us to look at her theme of ambiguity and what it might serve to do in her landscape pieces.
Telfair, a Professor of Art in the Department of Art and Art History at Wesleyan University, is known for her epic-scale vistas. From afar, her oil paintings can be mistaken for photographs. However, as we look closer and get lost in the brush strokes, our relationship with the physical world becomes altered. It is here where Telfair asks her question: how does a contemporary landscape artist move away from familiarity? In creating a sense of ambiguity between imaginary and precision, Telfair accomplishes this. From here, we are placed into a fantastical environment that is manifested in countless ways throughout this exhibit. The sky, which takes up just under half the canvas in a typical Telfair painting, allows us to explore the dichotomy between trauma and hope. None of the skies in her paintings have a distinguishable light source, creating ambiguity as well as a potential threat. The ominous skies seem to be in constant motion. There is something unsafe about them but, thanks to the ambiguity, there is also potential in these skies. The artist also sets up a similar vagueness in her peaks. There is a sort of danger that presents itself as we look at these jagged edges. What if we fall? However, Telfair invites us to roam past these peaks because there is always much more in the distance.
As Telfair poses these questions of ambiguity, she is challenging the conventional idea of a contemporary landscape painting. We, as the consumers of her art, get to decide for ourselves whether her work is imaginary or whether it is as precise as a photograph. Telfair allows us to decide which interpretation we will take. Whether we decide to get lost in a world of fantasy or to take the painting at face value, Telfair welcomes us on her journey to contemporize the landscapes and reject familiarity.
The exhibit is on view from now until December 7, 2014 in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery .