In Times of Chaos, One Artist Searches for Order

Arts & Culture


When painter Janet Mishner transitioned from figurative to abstract work, it was to untether herself from the iron bars of her observations. That freedom was inspired by her mentor Gladys Goldstein, a prominent figure in Mishner’s native Baltimore, as well as her experiences as a docent at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where she decided she would not begin painting until she understood why Jackson Pollock’s work was so important. “There was just a point in my life where I didn’t want to paint what I saw,” she says. But abstract work comes with its own set of obstacles. 

“With my early abstract work, I’d run into the problem of feeling lost,” she says, “and I’d wreck the canvas to achieve a measure of control.” Throughout her career, she came to feel more comfortable with feeling lost, but when the pandemic changed the way she relates to others, it also brought, in its own perverse and poetic way, something unexpected to her practice. Mishner’s “Connection vs. Isolation” series is the product of that something unexpected.

The series features a recurring motif of a grid, sometimes as an explicit, uniform structure of straight lines, other times as a suggestion of sections beneath a free-flowing smattering of marks, lines and colors. “The pandemic inspired me to create that structure or grid,” she says, “and it gave me greater clarity in what I was trying to do.” The compartmentalization of the canvas served as a direct representation of the separation of people during the pandemic, whether physically with masks and social distancing, or ideologically in our increasingly polarized worldviews. One piece even breaks from her purely abstract proclivities and depicts the infamous Zoom screen, with different faces set in their own squares, connected and isolated at the same time. 

“Each box represents the boundary and safety of an individual, but from there I permeate those boundaries to express the need for a connection,” she says. The series in many ways also serves both autobiographical and therapeutic functions. “I share my space with [painter and colleague] Linda Richichi,” says Mishner, “and we both used to paint whenever we wanted.” Now, the two must schedule shifts at the studio to honor social distancing. Another loss of connection for Mishner comes from her regular meet-ups with other Art Uptown artists, fellow members of FLAG (Florida Artists Group) and the network of female artists in Petticoat Painters. 

“I’ve just spent a lot of time lately really thinking about what we need as humans versus what we must do as responsible people,” she says, “and the series was a great way to express myself and cope with all of this.”

Mishner’s series will be featured at Art Uptown Gallery through January 29th. The gallery asks that masks and social distancing be utilized when visiting.

In 'Searching for Happiness,' Janet Mishner blends the freedom of abstract painting with the confines of life during a pandemic. Photo courtesy of Janet Mishner.

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