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Zen and the Art of Jazz: Lisa Lyskava at the National Arts Club

Jazz and Zen Buddhism have long been associated in Beat Generation mythology. This is particularly evident in the novels of Jack Kerouac and in the poetry of Gary Snyder. But no visual artist we know of has stitched those elements together as successfully as Lisa Lyskava, whose Jazzing Up exhibition runs through November 13 at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South.

Lisa Lyskava, born in Münster, Germany, in 1949, lives and works in Germany and in New York. Jazz music is her inspiration. When painting, jazz is her constant companion. Her motor impetus and choice of colors are inspired by the infectious rhythms and melodies of this music.

Only recently has her intellectual engagement with Zen philosophy influenced her art. While some of her compositions remain densely structured, complex in color and intensely gesture-like, others are reduced and calligraphic. Although in the more recent paintings she works according to the Zen principle of “emptiness” on an all-white background and limits her compositions to a few quick, skillful brushstrokes, Lisa Lyskava does not shy away from color like the Zen calligraphers of China and Japan centuries earlier. 

On the contrary, she shows her mastery as a colourist in a variety of ways: with every single brushstroke she reveals the brilliance of a rainbow in multi-gradated shades of color before our eyes. 

As always, Lisa Lyskava's colors are fresh and surprising. They often consist of impressive compositions of pink, crimson, yellow, blue, turquoise and violet hues. These visual experiences are more reminiscent of musical sounds than physical representations of nature.

Occasionally the painter even uses a fluorescent orange. This emerges as willfully discordant as a sudden squawk from Ornette Coleman's plastic saxophone, just to get a composition going.

And thus the painter keeps a composition from becoming “too beautiful”.

While the brush is the basic tool of traditional Buddhist painting, Lisa Lyskava continues to favor sponges as her primary paint application tools. This even in her more calligraphic work, where she achieves great mastery in the execution of the line and compares favorably with the ancient Zen masters.

In fact, on canvases like Nothing Else, No Compromise and Koudaroufa, two or three thrown gestures are enough to meet on a pure white background and make it clear that in painting, as in jazz, improvisation is everything and the spontaneous attitude "the salt in the soup".

Inspired by the jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, Lisa Lyskava also creates works, e.g. in the paintings "Another World to Know" and "Autumn Leaves", in which (e.g.) pieces torn off by sponges further enhance the haptic effect of the painting's surface.

This creates contrasting saturated color field compositions, which are remarkable for their symphonic richness.

Their two distinctly different ways of working are particularly evident in the painting "Harlem Nights", where rhythmic color elements of deep purple meander over luminous areas of vibrant red and neon yellow at a speed that is truly breathtaking.

Lisa Lyskava recently returned to New York City after living in Europe for two years. This superb solo exhibition is a great cause for celebration: it's back in New York! Andrew Margolis in GALLERY&STUDIO, New York, Nov-Dec 2006/Jan 2007 Translation from American: Helga Tebbe, Dortmund (Germany)

Andrew Margolis in GALLERY&STUDIO, New York, Nov-Dec 2006/Jan 2007

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