Sylvia Fein Reviews

“Wondrous Life: Paintings and Drawings by Sylvia Fein.” This survey, her first solo exhibition since the early 1970s featured 123 mostly small-scaled works, many of recent vintage. Fein’s meticulous draftsmanship is combined with a more painterly attention to the textures of land, sea and sky...she has used egg tempera for most of her work. The medium’s densely saturated tones and porcelain-like textures ideally suit her miniaturist vision... Fein’s distinctly female perspective is evident throughout, notably in the iconic “Torso” (1965) which depicts a nude female torso with the defined musculature and body tone of an archaic Greek sculpture, albeit one showing at its lower edge the polka-dot trim of the lady’s red stockings.

Fancy and the imagination are Fein’s stock-in-trade, and her best work sweep us into the mysteries of the everyday. Twelve little temperas (2005-2006) depict individual human eyes* whose dark irises carry reflections that include a cat’s face, a stark olive tree and the artist herself, depicted as a spritelike young girl. Like Carrington, Kahlo and other great women artists of the past century, Fein is a solitary genius who has created a rich world on her own terms.”

April 2008 Art in America – Michael Duncan

Sylvia Fein’s intimate paintings reveal a universe compressed into a tiny space. In each miniature cosmos we are treated to a world up close, brought near to our senses; yet their infinitesimal detail and revelations tend to disperse out of reach, leaving us with a sensation of their mystery. This simultaneous forward projection and deep recession occurs in two paintings with similar subjects separated by forty years. Each presents birds flying into the elements, silhouetted against a churning and swirling backdrop. “Birds Flying into the Face of the Storm” (1965) is a turbulent explosion of wind and water punctuated by a flurry of black and white birds flittering in and out of saturated storm clouds. Fein’s astonishing brushwork articulates the impossible in this little panel. Flecks and specks of paint multiply into thousands of tiny dots that evoke sizzling sounds, omnipresent mist beading up in the atmosphere, and a terrible splashing of summer rain. Fein’s vision transforms and preserves an observed instant into perpetual revelation.

“Spring Sky” (2005), also composed across a small panel, swells with fluid biological associations. This deceptively simple painting of birds swirling contains the formal interdependence of nature’s component parts. Black birds fly across a symphony of cerulean blue, cream, and pale yellow. As they journey, the birds scatter off into the deepest pocket of blue, dissolving into a spill of black dust.

June 2007 “Wondrous Life” – Robert Cozzolino, Curator of Modern Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia

Fein—who in recent years has only rarely exhibited her work—was the surprise of the exhibition (With Friends: Six Magic Realists, 1940-1965) Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin. In small scale tempera panels, she portrays female surrogates, often from mythology, with and intensity that rivals that of Frida Kahlo.

February 2006 Art in America – Michael Duncan

In this, her 17th solo show, Sylvia Fein has painted the sea itself—as it is shaped by the wind and the tide, the shallows and depths-exploding in iridescent spume, foaming over rocks, rising in peaks at full flood-Gulls ride out the tide. Fish thread the depths. Her magic eye sees beneath the sea... a paradoxically mystic vision and faultless technique shape these paintings.

1965 “Shape of the Sea” – Miriam Dungan Cross, Oakland Tribune, California

While contemporary paintings are getting bigger and bigger and saying less and less, Sylvia Fein’s are getting smaller and smaller to say more and more.

1965 “Shape of the Sea” – John Alsberg, Director, Nichole Gallery, Berkeley, California

Sylvia Fein’s medium is egg tempera employed in the manner of the ancients, using only the yolks of fresh eggs, ground pigments and distilled water. The preparation and application of this medium alone involves a painstaking control germane to the meticulous ways of thought and the disciplined, sensitive artisanship which characterizes Fein’s work. However, this is artisanship a the service of art, for Fein commands the full range of her medium to evoke in crisp and lacy linearities silhouetted arboreal arabesques or to conjure the subtlest translucencies of atmosphere in ethereal sunsets and luminous nocturnal skies. In statements such as “Burn Off at Martinez” one is reminded of some of the miniature fantasies of Hieronymus well as diverse areas of European and Oriental stylistic transformed by an individual lyric sensibility of a singularly high order.

1965 Art Forum Magazine – Maxwell Galleries, San Francisco, California

Clarity, finesse, and perfection of draftsmanship are other virtues Sylvia Fein possesses. She is one of the most highly individual painters in the Bay Region and one of the most accomplished.

1963 – Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle

Sylvia Fein’s agents, Feingarten Galleries of San Francisco, Carmel, Chicago and New York have termed her a rebel, since despite the vogue for non-objective art, she persists in painting in exquisite detail, sometimes in an almost surrealist mood in form as well as content, other times almost primitive in their simplicity.

1963 – Mady Alexander, Oakland Tribune, Mills College Art Gallery Exhibition

Sylvia Fein’s paintings are very small. Very delicate. An orchard seems about to burst into bloom. A flock of tiny birds swoops over a twilight sky. Almost invisible boats are dimly reflected in water that seems one with the air. These are extremely personal expressions, confined to small surfaces, frail in their execution, altogether feminine and lovely.

1961 – New York Herald Tribune, Feingarten Galleries Exhibition

Sylvia Fein is another visionary... working in egg tempera on a tiny scale like a monk illuminating a page, she fixes a romantic focus on scenes... wreathing them in theatrical light and atmosphere.

1961 – New York Times, Feingarten Galleries Exhibition

Sylvia Fein is refreshing and inventive... one of the limited number of Bay Area artists one can call masterly in what she chooses to do. 1959 – San Francisco Examiner, Alexander Fried Sylvia Fein... pack a microcosmic view into a few square inches... rivaling even Jan van Eyck’s challenge to the naked eye with her wielding of what must be a single-hair brush. There is a fragility to the terrestrial paradises she unfolds, as if they were worlds reflected in a bubble that might vanish at any moment, too precarious in their loveliness to be fixed for any length of time. Her touch, as she applies her egg tempera, is so deft and light that there is no trace of laboriousness to the minute detailing, but rather a sense of fresh pleasure in discovering nature anew in such an entrancing guise. An orchard coming into bloom, a flurry of birds in the sky, unruffled reflections in the water, the misty greens of newly planted fields, jewel-like clusters of flowers—all are seen from a vantage which places the earth once again, briefly, at the center of the cosmos...

1959 – The Arts Magazine, M.S.

Her paintings recall the days when the chemist and the alchemist were one and the same artist and refined their materials in an atmosphere of sorcery. Some paintings are like medieval illuminations, as if the artist were compiling a local book of Hours.

1957 – San Francisco Chronicle, Alfred Frankenstein, “Fifty-Seven Small Paintings of the Bay Area”

The Perls has a first one-man exhibition by a young Milwaukee artist named Sylvia Fein... whose work somehow manages to suggest the German Gothic and the Oriental at practically the same moment... her technique—firm, precise, and clear—is always authoritative.

1946 – The New Yorker Magazine, Robert M. Coates