Artist Profile: Joanne Tarlin

Joanne_Tarlin studio

Joanne Tarlin in her Studio

Posthumously Blooming

Written By Clare Asch

Joanne Tarlin’s studio is spacious and light filled. The clear light illuminating her studio sets off the rich colors of her paintings.

In one corner of her studio sits an antique typewriter. This is the very typewriter that her father used to write his novel, The Artist’s LifeThe discovery of this manuscript upon the death of her father was a revelation for Tarlin. She had no idea of the intensity of her father’s interest in the arts. This discovery is the inspiration behind the series of paintings she calls Posthumously Blooming.

In this new body of work, the text from her father’s writing acts as a palimpsest for Tarlin’s luscious botanical paintings. The pale subtle script creates a haunting contrast to her vibrant colors and spontaneous brushstrokes.


Joanne Tarlin, My Father’s Adumbration, 50 x 60 in., oil on canvas

In the painting called My Father’s Adumbration, oil on canvas, 50 x 60 inches, there is just a faint hint of words. The rich reds and purples catch our attention immediately, while the complementary greens and blues with touches of yellow add a full spectrum of colors rich in association. In her artist statement Tarlin notes: “I continue the tradition of painting flowers and landscapes as metaphors for mortality.”

The traditional symbols seen in Renaissance Vanitas paintings, such as watches, hour glasses and skulls which represent mortality, are not present in Tarlin’s paintings. Yet these botanicals refer to mortality, in their combination of flowers in full bloom and individual detached blossoms, spaced to give the compositions a temporal element. The dark purple background of this painting seems to be alluding to night time, a time of mystery and dreams. As Tarlin observes in her statement: “Like the Romantics, I intend to convey a sense of awe in the presence of an uncontrollable world that is both beautiful and threatening.” The dark purples and jewel-like reds, greens and cyans capture both the beauty and the mystery of this sentiment.


Joanne Tarlin, Prescient Writing, 24 x 24 in., oil on canvas

In Prescient Writing, the background is light. The text is clearer to see, as it hovers mysteriously behind the sensuous flowers. The paint application is rich with a mix of impasto and loosely painted, flowing brushstrokes. This painting reminds me of an illuminated manuscript written in a long-forgotten language. One can clearly see the text but it is unreadable. Instead it creates a supportive background pattern behind the organic flowers.

In a glowing red painting, titled Who Are You, the text is legible, so we can easily decipher the words “who are you.” Tarlin  explains: “My variation is the incorporation of text from The Artist’s Life, a book written by my late father, Bertram Tarlin, which is both a story and a treatise on existentialism with phrases such as, “who are you” or “how can we live ourselves when there is so much hardship and poverty in the world,” and “why is art so important.”


Joanne Tarlin, Who Are You, 30 x 40 in., oil on canvas

Besides the flowers and the text, there are also some geometric elements in this painting, as in many of Tarlin’s other paintings. The chartreuse circle in the bottom right corner emphasizes the two-dimensional nature of the picture plane, while the atmospheric red background with the grey blue light in the right-hand corner gives a strong illusion of depth. Just off center in this painting is a small, metallic-looking object that appears somewhat like a bee and a piece of gold jewelry. All the different elements in this painting work together to create a complex, mysterious image that makes the viewer stop and wonder “who they are” and “why is art important.”

In this series of paintings Tarlin creates both a tribute to her father and an invitation to the viewer to linger and to listen to their own thoughts, as she did while responding to her father’s legacy in her own eloquent and arresting voice.

Joanne Tarlin, Posthumously Blooming: July 3-July 28, 2019. Visit Galatea Fine Art at 460 Harrison Ave, #B-6, Boston, MA 02118, 616-542-1500. Gallery hours: Wednesday–Sunday 12-5pm and by appointment.

Please join us for an Artist Talk featuring exhibiting artists Frank Capezzera and Joanne Tarlin and curator Jenny Costello on Saturday, July 20 from 4:30pm-6:30pm at Galatea Fine Art, 460 Harrison Avenue, #B-6, Boston, MA 02118

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