Caleb Stoltzfus's Prophets
Caleb Stoltzfus came to the Harrison Center in August of 2015 as an artist-in-residence. Caleb and I (his wife, Brie) moved into a purple house in Fall Creek Place and he started what would be his first year of full-time painting, working in the studio from 9-5 like any other full-time job. Having completed seven years of formal training, Caleb was eager to apply these principles in an intensely individual way. He told me, “It’s valuable to be able to get a sense of where you’re at stylistically without a teacher or mentor’s direct instruction, to see what you can achieve without formal guidance.” In 2009, Caleb started studying under Neil Carlin at Studio Rilievo, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a classical atelier that emphasizes rigorous instruction in the fundamentals of drawing and painting. In 2012, he completed the atelier program and graduated in 2015 with an undergraduate degree in Art.
This series of paintings focuses on passages of the Old Testament that take place in Noah, Jonah, Isaiah, and Moses’ dark and painful moments, in times of disobedience, ostracization, hopelessness, and arrogance. The varying texture of the paint tells just as much of the story as the form. For example, the dry and choppy paint in Isaiah gives the image material weight, emphasizing the humility of his position. In contrast, the smooth, transparent layers of paint in Resurrection gives the torsos of both figures a sense of transcendence. Often, smoothness and roughness are used simply for formal description, as in, for example, the bubbles in Jonah. The paint quality of much of these scenes is highly textured, an important part of the “technical narrative” of the painting.
Though the subject matter is ancient, the painting technique blends Representational and Modernist elements, resulting in a fresh perspective on a subject common to art history. For example, the Isaiah triptych painting Man and Woman with Infant is composed of flat, one-dimensional planes of color that can be seen in twentieth-century abstraction. In narrating these stories with a modernized technical narrative, this series argues for their relevance today and seeks to engage a twenty-first century audience.
Caleb Stoltzfus's show, Prophets opens Friday, April 1 in the Harrison Gallery. The work hangs through April 29.