Peggy Cyphers’s paintings also incorporate multiplicity and layering, but rather than looking to the gestural vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism for her models, Ms. Cyphers works in the tradition of biomorphic abstraction — that is, the abstract use of forms derived from nature. A lot of the forms in these paintings recall childish versions of flowers, buds and tendrils, although the associations can also be harder to pin down. Ms. Cyphers also works some recognizable representations into the weave of her abstractions, in the form of repeated, faintly silk-screened images like moths, owls and faces.
Peggy Cyphers (b.1954) is a painter, who focused on the series called Modern Fossils that attempts to explore the consciousness, geological time and the Anthropocene that fossilize the moment and appropriate the images from nature and cultural history. Now, with her own development of her artistic career, she taught fine arts field as an Adjunct Professor at Pratt Institute since 1989. For today’s editorial interview, we will discuss her works and her opinion toward contemporary art.
Posed halfway between abstract patterning and geological reference, “Silver Spirit” reminds us that painting is still capable of capturing our interest, despite the funerary orations that the medium is dead. Cyphers makes it clear that she has opted for a double awareness, in which non-objective insight vies with close scrutiny of the natural world.
Peggy Cyphers responds to the multi-dimensional experience of Being through painterly gesture and luminous layers of pigments. Cyphers creates the sensation of gazing upwards through indeterminate, glowing layers defying both perspective and gravity. In this latest body of work, Peggy Cyphers’ gestural brushwork is evident not only on canvas but watercolor and monotypes on paper reflecting her overarching aesthetic concern of the interconnectedness of all beings to the earth and to each other.
These airy abstractions, most in a quatrefoil format with textural flourishes of sand and gold leaf, seem inspired in equal measure by natural phenomena and ancient Chinese painting.
Peggy Cyphers’ paintings transport the viewer into distant imagined landscapes where abstraction slips into narrative and the familiar and the wild co-exist impossibly.
Her paintings are made by constantly turning the canvas, giving the work a strange vertiginous effect of not being exactly sure where we are: are we catching a woodpecker’s feather out of the corner of our human eye, or are we a mite deep inside the bird’s plumage peering out?
She scavenges from Chinese Landscape Painting, Indian Sand Painting, Process Art and Surrealism to create her highly original hybrids which critique dominant culture’s over-‐consumption of the environment. The recent paintings titled “Animal Spirits” employ pattern and translucency to develop spatial compositions that at once defy gravity and orientation. They challenge perceptual orientations to envision spaces of expansive consciousness, while relying on direct encounter with water, birds and other animals for visual cues of color, pattern and gravitational freedom.
At the Frankel Nathanson Gallery in Maplewood, Peggy Cyphers shows that she is at home in primal nature. But she also acknowledges the clangorous contemporary world.
Now she’s just painting, in an effortless style that corrupts and complicates the staining technique originated by Color Field painters like Helen Frankenthaler with various ideas in the air: notational, pattern-prone motifs, landscape references and allusions to textiles and fabric. The plants are still here, but now they are usually soft blooms and plumes of color that also suggest, with a little help from the titles, wet pavement, blurry stop lights or even the Brooklyn Bridge.
Peggy Cyphers’s Iowa Prairie Conversation pays homage to the many now-extinct plant species that once thrived on the American Prairie but have disappeared due to agricultural farming. Her cyanotypes feature images of centuries-old extinct plants she unearthed from the archives at the Grinnell College herbarium. By incorporating those plant images, she connects the meticulous cataloguing of 19th-century naturalists with her own artwork and the work of naturalists today.
In most of Peggy Cyphers’ new two-panel paintings, an animated spiral and an equally animated Chevron shape, both more organic than geometric, cavort in an ambiguous, semi-abstract landscape. Their antics, painted in oil on canvas, are recapitulated below on smaller pradella-like panels made of rough white-sprayed tarpaper. The contrast between these two surfaces and the scenes they depict – one creamy and in focus, the other rough and out-of-focus, one suggesting a vital, breathing ”real” world, the other its subterranean fossilized remains – is the focal point of the work.
Peggy Cyphers has a persistent vision of nature that she translates into richly colored and textured quasi-abstract paintings. She pours and lightly brushes countless layers of paint and sand onto the canvas until she achieves luminous and sumptuous surface. Approaching each canvas as a kind of garden where organic and geometric elements intermingle with intense light, she nurtures elaborate hybrid forms.