Examples of this make up a part of the sand show at Von Hartz. These smaller works, in shades of greens, blues, purples and often in a grouping, are unmistakably references to these surroundings, although still planted in abstraction. The blues sparkle when passing by them, as the sea does when the sun hits lapping waves; while the greens might suggest the kinetic state of the shore-line sand as the waves constantly run over it and then retreat. As the sun’s light passes through clouds, bounces off waves, and glints off sand crystals, the motion never stops in this micro world.
As the artist explains, some of these works in groupings are frames that together tell a visual tale, whereas some of the larger-scale paintings are all-inclusive and stand alone. Both are represented. One especially intriguing series is comprised of two rows of small paintings, five in each, all in variations of white. As Miamians are well aware, hot mid-day heat can turn the world white – so called white-heat, washing out the subtle colors that can be observed at softer times, in early morning or twilight.
This series seems to detail that intense time of the day, when the sky, the water, the sand can fade to white. In the first couple of frames, some distinct color still emerges, until it almost all is erased by the last panel. “These are almost like drawings,” says Gelfman. “I like how the paint disappears into the surface,” becoming smooth and monotone.
Smooth in this case is literal. While nature, perspective and illusion make up part of the picture, Gelfman’s work is also about process. These compositions can appear so tactile – like tapestries at times – that viewers inevitably want to touch them. And because she does indeed sand her works and employ other techniques, she manipulates the surfaces of her paintings in such a way that when actually touching them (if you do, do it gingerly), they come as a surprise. Some are as soft as baby skin, others rough; at times her intense process has ripped the canvas. She uses acrylic, oil, sanding machines and unrevealed techniques to create her pieces.
Several years ago, in almost direct reference to the process of her work, Gelfman titled her shows in New York and at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery resist and react, emphasizing the push and pull of the imagery as well as the actual texture of the works.
Her patterning, in fact, can make the natural and man-made worlds overlap. At times the paintings can look more like woven textiles – or, conversely, vague images of a chain-link fence, the ultimate urban structure that unlike sand under waves, is immutable. As Gelfman says, “illusion is part of the work.”
On the back wall at the Von Hartz gallery, several very different works have been displayed. Called discs, they are circular molds on paper of a sanding-machine wheel, which Gelfman has used throughout the years. But they are also portals into the process of creation: the abrasive power of a sander helped form her imagery, while the abrasive power of nature helped form our environment.
While gentle and meditative on one level, the deeper one probes Gelfman’s work, the more complex it becomes -- waves, dunes and clouds are awe-inspiring, but both because of their beauty and their potency. Gelfman would have us explore it all.