Annunciation (51″ x 95.5″; oil on canvas)In this “Annunciation,” Stolar perversely enjambs a “Parting of the Red Sea” in between her Archangel “Gabriella” and reluctant Virgin. The angel’s Africanity seems loaded with equatorial will-power and survivability contra the “low birth-rate” aura, evoked in Stolar’s desolate, Europa-skinned maiden. Unapparent here, the storm-tossed center of the work is rich in sensuous skeins and impasto – lending intense, formal validity to Gabriel’s spiky hand – purposefully sleighted, a bit center. The “one-two-three” climbing rhythm of the three hands in sequence is a mimetic, “Father/Son/Holy Ghost” visual code, keyed into many a Baroque painting (Cf. Caravaggio, e.g.).Queen of Hearts (70.5″ x 64.5″; oil on canvas)Stolar’s “Queen of Hearts” engages the theme of youth’s often beautiful dedication to anything but status quo culture. This romantic idea has become fundamental to much of today’s Bay Area – a place loved for its evolved multiculturalism and 1960s legacy of liberal multi-valence. But it’s a largely conservative and tradition-bound world we still live in, for better or worse. The blondness, and seeming affluence and innocence, of Stolar’s “Queen” make her dreadlocks, yoga position, and attributes seem extra earnest – perhaps a girl from a “Red State,” if you will, tasting her first sense of self-fulfillment in independence. Her palpable resolve reminds us that in English, the word “heart,” connoting “spirit/soul,” loses the immediate French (i.e., Latinate) association with “courage,” so clearly evoked by the cognate le coeur, which primarily conveys a meaning something like “heart-strong,” each time “heart” is said in French, due to its kinship with “courage.” So, the heroine is by definition, “courageous,” and therefore amplified well beyond mere “love,” as Stolar’s “Queen of Hearts.” The Aztecs are another example of a culture for which the concept of the “heart” (qua “chest cavity”/ēlli, not the “organ”/yollotl) also suggested “bravery/courage,” as well as “spirit/soul” – implicit in the lore of their live, human sacrifices, via manual heart extraction, atop their Great Pyramid and Pyramid of the Moon.Kāli (48″ x 48″; oil on canvas)In a studio visit to prepare for this feature in Nomos Journal, Stolar revealed that her “Kāli” is inspired by one of the earliest Hindu senses of the goddess – that of “she who has devoured universal evil,” in order to redeem all of fate to the equitable, for all time. Other associations with the goddess include: balance, empowerment, blackness qua the death of time, ultimate reality, etc. In the latter senses, then, Kāli embodies something of our cosmic theories of the “black hole,” if you will, with that astronomical phenom’s annihilation of the event horizon by absorbing all light, time, and mass. It is popular lore, though perhaps not physics, to envision a parallel universe on the other side of black holes, and thus a yin-yang balance signified by them. Then again, her “redeemer of the universe” role, in terms of self-absorbing all evil, is curiously Christ-like. Revisionist thinking of the more recent past conceives of Kāli as a benevolent mother goddess. So, by extension, she also echoes the Christian myth of the Blessèd Mother. Note Stolar’s signature deployment of helter-skelter spirals, usually to denote energy fields, and always admirably “dashed off” with old-master sprezzatura. Therewith, Kāli’s ravished hair is echoic.
Sarah Stolar is an oil painter of magical-realist bent, whose meaty, aggressive brush technique is in the line of French Romantic painting, German Expressionism, and American Abstract Expressionism. Instead of the “galactic,” illustrational re-hash of many a magical realist cum “new age” surrealist, Stolar’s auras are grittily grounded in a terrain of paint as “pure,” plastic sculpting. What’s more, her gestural riots comport with themes and imagery from medieval art history, fractured fairy tales, mythic “journalism,” and Old Master painting.
Her formalist focus and proud regard for high, European fine painting make her a bit of “the heavy” in the Bay Area’s truncated and often ingenuous gallery scene. One of the reasons she took her San Francisco Art Institute MFA in new-genre arts, rather than in drawing and painting – which she now teaches at the Institute’s extension program – is that Stolar found the inherent chauvinisms of the Bay-Area painting “world” rather insufferable, while new-media arts seemed a freer arena. New media gave voice to her innate, “glam-sex” sense of wild-child theatrics, whether in the form of her digito-mechanical dioramas, doll houses, performances, or video pieces, where anything from porn, to the horror genre, from Vegas “couture” to Tinkerbelle or Bullwinkle, might conflate. Withal, her affinity for cinematic and stage art-direction (sets and costumes, lighting design, sound effects, editing, etc.) served her well, and today she continues new-media work, including performance-art commissions for the likes of Annie Sprinkle at the Venice Biennial.
But oil painting is Stolar’s first calling. Her mother Merlene Schain is a well-known painter and mixed-media sculptor in the mid-West, and their direct forebear was Adolph von Menzel, the famous German painter of the mid/late nineteenth century, who, with Caspar David Friedrich, is regarded as the summa of that country’s visual arts’ laureates of the 1800s. While her libertine character may be all her own, Stolar’s serious regard for informed oil painting is DNA dynamic. But it also imbues Stolar’s work with the gravitas and after-worldliness of Western “sacred” painting. From the Bible to ancient, Mediterranean mythologies, Stolar plants her hipster spirit in old milieus. One thinks especially of Venice in Stolar’s latest painting series: classic Europe in league with Arabia, Byzantium, and Asia – and of all their magical spirits and lores, long there, in exchange. A museum without walls.
Michael J. Miller is a thirty-year-career gallerist, who has held local and national director offices at some of the country’s largest art-gallery concerns, including that of National Sales Director at Dyansen Galleries and Merrill-Chase Galleries, and that of Director of Marketing at eBay/Butterfield’s auction houses. He is a Harvard-trained art historian and writer, who has authored many art-world publications. He is a poet, whose collected poems, Mexican Ivy, span the years 1975-2010. A close reader, he is currently completing a massive decoding of Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets.