A school of silver fish glides through the ocean's depths in this bold piece of expressionist mastery by B.J.O. Nordfeldt. This painting bears all the hallmarks of Nordfeldt's best period, late in his career- marine subject matter, strong energetic brushwork and rich hues applied in broad strokes of dry color.
Marine subjects had been a staple of the artist's work, but in this period he reinterpreted these ideas in a more pared down style with repeated elements, the better to express movement and, as he put it, "the feeling of depth, weight, volume and force" of the sea.
"I was considering what was the most fundamental thing in painting and I believe that it is abstract form. That is the structure of the idea-bones—not the infernal likeness but just the absolute shapes that would give the emotional part." - B.J.O. Nordfeldt
Compositionally, Nordfeldt's goal was a balance between nature and a direct and visceral experience of art, the better to express the grandeur and mystery of nature. Nordfeldt used abstraction but felt it was important to tie his forms to reality. As he put it, "there must be a recognition element to serve as a bridge between abstract form and the beholder" pulling the viewer into the work, in this case, to contemplate the cool depths and complex life below the waves.
"In order to get fluidity one has to have the opposing static— hence sea and rocks or fish — all these arranged into a rhythmic sequence and adjusted to the shape of the canvas, since the canvas is the first abstraction." - B.J.O. Nordfeldt
Nordfeldt took these expressions further in his use of color. Finding his greatest inspiration in the technique of French master Paul Cézanne, Nordfeldt created almost sculptural forms through the use of bold outlines and a palette of intense color applied in sections with minimal blending, allowing the artist to unite figures and landscape.
In "School of Fish", this reach for unity blends elements of land and ocean- as the colors and shapes reflect crystalline structures and precious stones found in the earth- sapphire, emerald, amethyst, obsidian, platinum and silver. The application of paint along distinct parallel lines is unexpected under the sea, and is reinforced with the use of sgraffito lines in the rockwork all adding power and vitality to the setting.
Reviewing Nordfeldt's late work, New York Times critic, Howard Devree said it was, "packed with vigor and explosive emotional intensity", which is clearly on display in this painting. A culmination of a life's work in art, this is a work which exemplifies the best of Nordfeldt's passions and techniques.
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