‘Zen’ and the art of painting color
Michelle Neifert’s exploration of color and light grace the walls of the David E. Rodale and Rodale Family Galleries, The Baum School of Art, 510 W. Linden St., Allentown.
“The Zen of Seeing,” an exhibit of her calming, colorful creations, continues through July 7 at Baum.
“I wanted to be a painter since when I was five,” said Neifert. She was inspired by her father’s best friend, Mark, a graphic designer who would draw for her whenever he visited. “I was hooked,” Neifert said. “My gosh! It’s magic! You can make something appear that didn’t exist before!”
Neifert received a BFA from Kutztown University.
“I did primarily figure drawing there, all black and white. I was not much interested in color or painting …” Neifert recalled. “… by the time I had graduated, I realized that I was deficient in color.”
She decided that “I’m going to focus on color. I’m going to learn everything about it … I set my mind to exploring, experimenting and fell in love with it and everything about it.”
Neifert continued her education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and The Baum School of Art.
Her abstract expressionist work on display at Baum is of colors that project joy. Her triptych, “Claude and Joan Sittin’ in a Tree,” is influenced by her two favorite painters, Claude Monet and Joan Mitchell, with Monet’s famous yellow water lilies and the look of Mitchell’s multi-paneled abstract landscapes incorporated into the acrylic on canvas.
Small studies on paper, including “Study: Finding Little Joan 2,” hang in 10½ in. by 11 in.” frames adjacent to larger works. Neifert would play with color on a large sheet of paper, then cut it up into smaller 2 in. by 3½ in. sections until she found something to base her paintings on. Some of these small pieces were turned into jewelry.
Neifert created “stress-free zones” with her artwork, based in part from what she from Japanese Buddhist meditation. Installed in the Rodale Family Gallery is “a ‘chapel.” where participants can view, sit, relax, think and “decompress in a peaceful environment,” according to the artist’s statement. Each of the large-scale 48-in.-square paintings with their calming subdued colors create peaceful “color-field landscapes.”
The combined works in the gallery form Neifert’s “chapel.” The series is titled “Zazen,” after a term for a type of Japanese Buddhist meditation, which Neifert learned at a monastery in the Catskills.
Neifert states that she explores “the evolutionary impact of color and landscape on us as human beings. The emotional positive benefits of seeing an open sky, seeing the landscape and the peace that it brings to us innately from just by being part of the earth itself.”
Neifert works out of a studio at the Banana Factory, Bethlehem where she plays music to set the mood for her creations. She has since reconnected with her mentor who was inspired by Neifert to pick up the brush and palette again after having stopped painting for 20 years.
“He changed my life and now he’s almost 70 and he’s working again,” she said with a smile.
Gallery hours information: baumschool.org, 610-433-0032