Irene Stern’s luminous and elegant paintings evolved out of her early work in watercolor, a progression evident in the almost liquid flow of colors across her large compositions. In these works, tones melt together and “veils of pigment appear to fold over one another, creating illusory creases and hollows.” (1) The overall affect is one of slow, powerful visual rhythms. Stern’s semi-translucent, gossamer colors billow across her surfaces, soaking into the unprimed canvas to create tactile fusions of paint and support that envelope the viewer in diaphanous veils of paint.
Stern’s pure abstract forms call to mind the stained canvases of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, but her work embodies a unique elegance that differentiates it from that of her color field contemporaries. Where Louis harnessed the power of gravity to pull his pigments down the canvas and Frankenthaler very deliberately pushed her paints around, Stern’s colors seem to grow and blossom organically across the composition. These blooms of pure color manage to be simultaneously serene and dramatic as they radiate warm, earthy tones.
Born in 1932 in Poland, Stern survived the Holocaust at a young age, eventually setting in Southern California by way of Paris and New York. Irene Stern’s work has been exhibited and collected widely, and can currently be found in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.