She’s a Powerhouse

Story from New Smyrma Beach by Judy Pfaff, watercolor, oil stick, lace and doilies, 45 x 20, 2004.
Story from New Smyrma Beach by Judy Pfaff,
watercolor, oil stick, lace and doilies, 45 x 20, 2004.

I’ll admit that I have quite a few art idols. But I reserve my teen-girl Beatles shriek for a select handful, and Judy Pfaff is one of them. She’s been creating mixed media art, sculpture, installations, and more for more than five decades, which says volumes about her creative staying power, versatility, and committed point of view. But what most lures me in about her work is how honest it is about what it is. There is no pretense surrounding what materials Pfaff’s artwork is made of. Instead of hiding that a sculpture is created with steel wool and glass, or that a drawing is made from torn scraps of paper, Pfaff makes those objects artistic and totemic in their own right, celebrating their materiality. Just as Michelangelo seemed to honor the claw and chisel marks of his sculptures and Sorolla rejoiced in the buttery passages in his oil paintings, Pfaff pursues her love of materiality in her own artistic language.

Hangzhou by Judy Pfaff, 2006, Crown Kozo paper, encaustic, and ink, 57 1/2 x 47 1/2.
Hangzhou by Judy Pfaff, 2006,
Crown Kozo paper, encaustic, and ink,
57 1/2 x 47 1/2.

Throughout her career, Pfaff’s installations, drawings, and sculptures have been lush, inviting, and unrestrained. She started out during the years of post-minimalism in the 1970s, and her work went against the dominant art of the time, which was often stark and sometimes anemic. She went another way, maximizing the variety of color, shape, and physical scale of her works, and using all kinds of objects and materials—metal, fiberglass, string, lace, and paper flowers, among many others.

What Pfaff brings to all of the mixed media art materials she employs is her ability to prune and cultivate works so that they hold true to her vision, not the other way around. The materials and objects Pfaff uses do not define her work—she does. Using her critical eye, she edits and revises until her vision holds true. This can be quite a challenge when working with materials that seem so concretely defined. How do you make a steel armature seem as organic as an ivy vine, or a stained paper coffee filter as pretty as a rose? Pfaff is able to. She sees the organic possibilities in objects and creates unpredictable pairings that show how materials can converse with one another, what they can achieve alone, and how they resonate as part of a whole.

In Painting Water in Different Media, we celebrate incredibly skillful, conceptual, and creative responses to different materials and media, all of which are used to paint that most evocative of subjects: water. This is a resource that allows us to think beyond conventions and become more conversant about the materiality and possibilities of several media. And it’s this kind of outside-the-box acuity that Judy Pfaff brings to her work and that has enabled her to stay relevant for five decades and counting.

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

5 thoughts on “She’s a Powerhouse

  1. Thanks, Courtney, for the post on Judy Pfaff. I’m also a fan. Though classical realism is my working point of view, I believe she has produced a rich and beautiful body of work. She was in my painting class at Washington University, way back in 1969-70, and I’m very proud of my former classmate.

  2. I came across Judy’s work just recently while viewing another artist on Artist 21.
    It would be a pity if this country didn’t acknowledge her NOW, while she’s living, as a great artist. To the gentlemen or lady below who said they are “so tired of seeing artists like Judy Pfaff,” — I’ve NEVER seen another artist like Judy, and so help me, I swear I never will.

    Thanks Judy for your brilliant eye, your knowledge of form and nature, and your astounding ability to put it all together.

  3. Thank you, Courtney, for raising the bar for artists like this, who dare go outside the box. Art, after all, is supposed to be fresh, experimental, and always from the heart. Picasso once drew and painted in classic style, until he found the artist inside of himself.

  4. Courtney: You are providing a valuable service to your community of reviewers. Presenting your work to the public for review, critique and acceptance is the final step of producing artwork. After all, that is who determines if it is indeed art. I recall a comment by my best source of critique when I was a novice, and it was “Yes, but is it art?”