The next best thing to attending an artist's reception and viewing the works on the wall, which have been thoughtfully positioned and properly lit, is to get your hands on the gallery exhibition catalog or in this case, it is even better to acquire a handsomely illustrated and well-written hardcover book that serves as a permanent off-site, docent free, official tour guide of the show that you can examine carefully in the privacy of one's home. Homage to the Creative Spirit, the new book on the extraordinary paintings of Jenness Cortez, which was just published and accompanies her current exhibit at DeBruyne Fine Art in Naples, Florida, has to rank as one of the most beautiful art books of the year. Great design and an intelligent viewpoint on luxurious paper stock is a necessary component to a fine document, but, like a hand-painted illuminated manuscript from a medieval studio, the work reproduced in the Cortez book portrays an uncanny marriage of exceptionally crafted imagery with the highest production standards. It is obvious that the book's designer takes full advantage of technological breakthroughs in high resolution digital photography and printing innovations.
There is a long and rather profound history of artists who have maintained an impressive inventory of super-realistic paintings that they developed through dedicated study of new painting methods over decades of academic exploration. Step by step, the exacting process of high resolution painting eventually became scientific and was passed on from one generation to the next. Some of the most important strides in picture-making occurred while an artist was composing visual impressions of interior still-lifes within entire rooms, occasionally with an image of a painting in the background as an extra test of one's talent and determination. For example, Samuel F.B. Morse's remarkable interior painting titled Gallery of the Louvre seems like an exasperating trial that few artists today could tackle, as the command of craft and diligence necessary to cultivate such a piece that recreates dozens of other paintings is not seen that often. The early challenge for artists in documenting interior spaces with compositional elements was no doubt amplified by the lack of natural light and the exacting requirements of producing three-dimensional illusions on a two-dimensional surface.
Like so many artists, Jenness Cortez, born in 1944 at the beginning of the WPA, which generated and supported some of America's greatest artists, was fortunate to discover an uncanny natural talent at an early age. Her supportive family encouraged her to begin formal art studies at sixteen under the guidance of the noted Dutch painter, Antonius Raemaekers. Most successful and highly respected artists that I know personally can reconstruct a moment in time where the inspirational tutelage of a visionary teacher directed and molded the instincts of their raw talent into a highly motivated career, full of adventure and daily creative tasks. The remarkable art school at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, for example, produced more famous artists than any other school, most of who can point to the invaluable instruction of a few highly skilled, significant instructors. After high school, Cortez developed a solid fine arts background as a graduate of the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis and later as a student of the noted painter, Arnold Blanch, at the Art Students League in New York City. After dazzling success in the mid-seventies with sporting paintings and her powerful depictions of race horses, Cortez graduated to mind-boggling compositions of interior snippets that were inspired by celebrated artists such as Vermeer, Dürer, Caravaggio and Rubens.
Years later, the artist has mastered the art of illusion and revealed the visual devices of many old masters by presenting common domestic objects surrounded by furniture and often accompanied by bookshelves that lend clues in a literal parlor game of discovery both metaphorical and literal. In the accompanying illustrations, Cortez demonstrates a splendidly full range of amazing configurations that have been meticulously researched and executed, and follow a possible cue from a number of odd bedfellows in contemporary art who are no longer with us, such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, who incorporated images of art created by other artists, from da Vinci's Last Supper to Popish interpretations of Mondrian. Creating art that's about art has a curiosity factor that is undeniable in its rich interpretation and inventive slant, but Cortez attacks her visual storytelling by mixing up the compositions that pull out all the stops. Carpeted hallways can meander to a Norman Rockwell painted illustration of a museum visitor viewing a Jackson Pollock, or zero in on a close-up of a purple and red Rothko camouflaged with an ingenious play on words, which provides another "pitcher" of purple lilacs accented with equally appropriate eggplants and delicious looking plums. Clearly this is an artist at work who really enjoys her creative endeavors. In one painting, A London Salon, the artist takes us on an intimate journey past a stairway and into other private spaces that depict paintings by Pissarro, Vuillard and Renoir, as well as centuries-old pottery, and capped off with neatly placed books about the artists hanging on the walls. The images that accompany this review are enjoyable to behold as they celebrate a complex and beautiful style of picture-making that is rare to discover. An added bonus can be achieved by carefully reading the captions accompanying the paintings, which offer a dizzying array of connections and scholarly documentation, along with an uncommon virtuosity and romance that make this unique artist a national treasure.
The 12th annual Jenness Cortez exhibition of important new works of American realism opened on January 24 and continues through March 31 at DeBruyne Fine Art (275 Broad Avenue South, Naples, Florida, T. 239.262.4551, http://www.debruynefineart.com)
Jenness Cortez is represented exclusively by Classic Gallery in Averill Park, New York. (T. 518.674.8711, website http://www.cortezart.com)