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Sylvia Fein: Surreal Nature

Krowswork Gallery is very pleased to announce Surreal Nature, an exhibition of paintings by 94-year-old artist Sylvia Fein. Fein was born in 1919 and began painting as a teenager in her home state of Wisconsin. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and there was part of an influential group of painters that were loosely called the Midwest Surrealists; however Fein's work was considered particularly radical for its Surrealist imagery, feminist themes, and quattrocento-influenced use of egg tempera paint. In 1943 she moved briefly to Mexico, where she lived near Ajijic, where she painted in anticipation of her first solo New York exhibition, which took place in 1946 at Perls Galleries.

In 1947 she moved to California with her husband and they settled in the East Bay, first in Richmond then Oakland and later near Martinez, where she still lives. She continued to paint, showing in San Francisco and New York but ultimately she disengaged from any art scene, preferring to paint privately in ways that allowed her to paint for herself and not feel subjected to the trends of the day. As one reviewer noted that as the work around her got larger and larger, Fein's delicate egg tempera work got smaller and more intimate in the 1950s and 1960s.

Having taken a two-decade break from painting to write two books Fein began to paint again in the early 2000s with a vengeance. She began a series of eyes that pick up where her early surrealist work left off, but with a singular and intensive vision that feels of this time. Sometimes the eye stands alone—its pupil filled with magical figures or natural forms. In other works, it becomes integrated into swirling storms of color and wind—either of a earth-bound or cosmic destiny.

This expansive exhibition of work by Sylvia Fein spans more than 70 years of her oeuvre, but it is important to understand that this is an exhibition of a contemporary painter. Fein paints for several hours almost every morning. She isn’t interested in the subject matter—it comes to her subconsciously and fluidly. For her, the emphasis is on the paint—egg tempera—which has been her steady companion since the beginning of her painting life. She is truly a master of this difficult technique. Fein’s afternoons are spent tending her expansive garden and orchards, which include olive trees, grapes, and finger limes. As she herself notes: “I am 50 percent painter. The other half is a farmer.”