by Rosanna Albertini


a film by JUDY FISKIN, 2016

It’s a film because images move, but after months of simmering this art piece in my mind, now I see it as visual music, very much as John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes: simple as dripping water, unassuming textures of reverence for a life we cover as a mysterious distance.

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How not to be elusive about death? How to be personal and elusive, personal and intuitive, wearing a dress of courtesy, some hints of humor. Judy’s film is a visual score. Lines of people moving horizontally and of cars rolling on the freeway. Notes are replaced by stories in a natural flow from which rough edges are smoothed out.
One funeral at the beginning, two funerals in the end, and stories of physical care in the middle: the statues’ maintenance.

That’s Fiskin’s quite unique art: to keep courtesy in the face of death. To clean the artwork of most intellectual rules, making art like a veil lifted from life, tied around her face often laughing at modernist obsessions, maybe at any kind of mental constructions. How long do they last? Is there knowing or believing?

Time is the body of films and music. Images and sounds are surfers in a pond of time, they exist as a savor, a perfume. We can only “integrate that savor into the fabric of our own identity.” George Steiner*

Once we have arrived to a certain life degree, by experiencing and understanding other humans, every relationship, even with our wisest or lovely friends, is only valuable in the atmosphere soaking them completely; and conversations, profound as they can be, have lost the power to give us intellectual happiness; they rather work in us like musical melodies.” Arthur Schnitzler**


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In the film, the sculptures by Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, Arturo Martini and others artists of the modern era (only with the exception of Charlie Ray), scattered in the gardens of the Getty Center, are washed and dried as if the Getty Museum conservators’ hands engaged in a caress because they must. There is no love, just periodic maintenance. The sculptures are rigid and heavy forms from day one, corpses. Don’t be mistaken. Judy Fiskin presents them as a trickster would: shiny, perfect, wonderful images that vanish through time. Death is the cord that ties them all, one more string of the music. I remember Homer: shoulders and muscles described as the pride of the living hero, seen at once like future shadows, lifeless, as if Achilles and the other warriors were already dead. This was then, in the ancient times, but now? Art history is a strange museum by itself, calling for veneration, offering exceptional and surprising specimens… do we really care?


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In the countryside house where I was born there was a bronze, the head of Jesus sculpted by a local artist, maybe Celeste was his name but I’m not sure. Jesus was sad. When grandfather died, I was seven, the family put a pillow embroidered by me under his head and the bronze on his grave. It is still my favorite sculpture. Facing death, Jesus was hiding his deep feelings, had a quiet expression. I can still see that face as I think, my eyes open. Grandfather used to say that life is so marvelous, something must continue after the threshold is passed. It was faith in a non religious artist.

Judy Fiskin lights a dim lamp at her window. People and words and images are a simple parade of acts and speeches we modulate without thinking in our daily journey. Common senses, platitudes. I’m not the first naming the aesthetic of courtesy, George Steiner is the master, but as far as I know very few artists of our time place this secret, inner feeling at the core of their work as Judy does. I love it because it’s not only about her, it unravels with grace the way she addresses the viewers, all of us. We are in her she can be in us. Platitude is not flatness, it is life as it is, true and fake, modest and grandiose, a little scary, mostly impossible to fish by words. Not without values.
Civility, courtesy and kindness in these days more reliable than truth.

JUDY FISKIN,Three Funerals and Some Acts of Preservation, Film, 2016 (excerpt)

*George Steiner, Real Presences, The University of Chicago Press, 1989
** Arthur Schnitzler, Relations et Solitudes, Aphorisms (Original title: Beziehungen und Einsamkeiten, 1967) Editions Rivages, translation from German by Pierre Deshusses, Paris,1988. Translation from French of this quote by R.A.



Life is a mystery and Art “the necessary angel”


Among artists: Richard Lau’s portrait painted by Janet Laing in 2013

ART AND LIFE — By Richard Lau. “I make art because it is a lot of fun. It allows me to freely explore thoughts and feelings. When I paint, I live in my special world of magic and mythology. For me, the creative process has no rules or boundaries. I just do it. It makes me happy. It makes me smile. Sometimes, it makes me laugh.

I really feel at ease within myself when I ‘get into’ what I’m creating. I’m transported to another world. (Kinda like reading a great book you can’t put down.) I’m comforted by a feeling of inner calm and relief. Now I can watch the painting and help it grow. I currently reside with my pet cat and parakeet. My present cat and two other cats I had were rescues I adopted from an animal rescue organization I volunteered with for over ten years.

When I was first contacted by Dr. Miescher about joining an artist group I was ecstatic. This was during the 2012 winter holiday season and I thought it was the best Christmas present I had ever received. The timing was perfect since I wasn’t doing anything to relieve my idleness. My enrollment in 137ac reunited me with many artist friends. It has been liberating for me to work at our studio. I can choose to work in solitude and privacy when desired but the opportunity is always available if I need the emotional benefits of engaging with my fellow artists. It helps me to avoid unhealthy over-isolation. Involvement with 137ac has given me a new direction in life. I feel more alive and vital being part of something outside of myself. Painting helps me to get in touch with my emotions.

Some of my favorite artists include: Hieronymous Bosch, Frans Hals, Albrecht Durer, Vermeer, Bernini, Degas, Juan Miro, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Max Beckman, George Grosz, Edward Munch, Modigliani, Gustav Klimt, Francisco Goya, James Ensor.”


Richard Lau was born in New York City in 1957; he lived his entire life there, and attended NYC public schools. He attended Bronx High School of Science and Columbia University, majoring in architecture. He is still very interested in the sciences and humanities, particularly psychology and Buddhism. Richard has suffered from chronic depression since 1978. Lau has a reverence for nature and an abiding fascination with forms and patterns in the natural world (one of his childhood toys was a microscope). He also enjoys hiking and bird watching. A self taught photographer and painter, he has been taking pictures for the past forty years. As a child, he enjoyed drawing and watercolor painting. Watercolor is still one of his favorite mediums.

The artist dives into a mysterious element through which is able to grasp the real world better than anybody else; the same mysterious element, though, cuts him [her] off from the world implacably, worse than the thicker wall.” (Arthur Schnitzler)

RICHARD LAU, Meditation, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 26" x 31" Courtesy of 137ac

RICHARD LAU, Meditation, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 26″ x 31″
Courtesy of 137ac



There are the facts of life, and words swirl around them as if an artist’s life could be explained like a stream of water from the source. It doesn’t. There are words and words, also: the ones trying to reflect what’s real about mountains, cars and birds and subway trains, and the ones that eat the bug of uncertainty.

These are light like falling petals, often forgetting which flower they belonged to. They only want to float on the paintings, and grasp the voices, the whispers diluted in colors. Quiet, they are invisible daughters of reading and mothers of new images to be imagined.

The parable of green, a special green almost turquoise, is the leitmotif of some of Richard’s paintings and drawings; bright and cold, this color gives access to an invisible state of mind that brings unexpected visual fruits, a banquet of feelings. Meditation is a story, a still life, a poem of animal souls merged into the canvas. Red, white, yellow and some blue are let free to float in a world without weight. The white soul of the cat on the floor, white like the lips of the two masks (Untitled) that contain and release a scream of terror, is there for the unspeakable story we can’t tell until we meet her, it’s the color of death. In this painting, white is a spot of sweetness shared by the pink figure on the left, and reinforced by the fact that the white soul is still dreaming, what else? A fish! The turquoise green around her head, embracing her shape with a delicate green line, gives to lady cat, and to us, a shiver of tenderness.

RICHARD LAU, Untitled, 2013, Oil on canvas paper, 12" x 9" Courtesy of 137ac

RICHARD LAU, Untitled, 2013, Oil on canvas paper, 12″ x 9″ Photo: Bianca Sforni
Courtesy of 137ac

RICHARD LAU, Untitled, 2012, Acrylic on paper, 24" x 18" Courtesy of 137ac

RICHARD LAU, Untitled, 2012, Acrylic on paper, 24″ x 18″
Courtesy of 137ac

A different story appears when blue and yellow are violently separate, and do not become green, that particular peaceful color. The human head is on fire, the face is a mask that covers unspeakable fears.

A different story again when the white only brings up mystery with no fear, or maybe the power of silence. When I look at Shadows, I see them motionless in front of the friendly silences of the moon (per amica silentia lunae by William Butler Yeats), immersed in silence for the painted time.

RICHARD LAU, Dark Shadows, 2014-2015, Oil on canvas, 20" x 13" Courtesy of 137ac

RICHARD LAU, Dark Shadows, 2014-2015, Oil on canvas, 20″ x 13″ Photo: Bianca Sforni
Courtesy of 137ac

RICHARD LAU, Bumpster, 2015, Oil on canvas, 28" x 30" Courtesy of 137ac

RICHARD LAU, Bumpster, 2015, Oil on canvas, 28″ x 30″
Courtesy of 137ac

But in the end, I’m sure that Richard Lau truly loves his painting when his mind looks for a steady place to hang all the possible noisy feelings. It’s an explosion of undefined things, a rain of broken forms stuck in the sky, incapable of finding the ground, and still it’s life. It is drama and it is joy. How many secrets we don’t want to disclose. Others, our human nature knows them better than our mind. Shall we ask for answers?

My Lord, Infinity asked: how can I appear to humans without petrifying them with fear? The Lord disguised her in the blue of the sky. What about me? asked Eternity, how can I reveal myself to humans without pushing them to annihilate themselves with terror? The Lord told her: I want to give humans an instant in which they will understand you. And he created Love.” (Arthur Schnitzler)

The portrait of Richard Lau painted by Janet Laing, another artist of the 137ac collective, is extremely insightful: she placed his bust in a stream of green, softening the image’s horizontal cut, and painted a necklace of green around his neck. Janet gave me the key.