Seizing Beauty | Photographs by Paulette Tavormina

Paulette Tavormina (American, b.  1952), <em>Vanitas VI, Reliquary, After D.B.</em>, 2015, digital pigment print, 1/7, 24 x 24 inches, courtesy of the artist.

Paulette Tavormina (American, b.  1952), Vanitas VI, Reliquary, After D.B., 2015, digital pigment print, 1/7, 24 x 24 inches, courtesy of the artist.

O'Shaughnessy Gallery West August 21 through November 27

Seizing Beauty focuses on the lush, complex, images by Paulette Tavormina, a New York creative photographer celebrated for her reinterpretation of still life paintings by old masters.  This exhibition is coincident with the first critical examination of her work in the book Seizing Beauty, by art historians Silvia Malaguzzi, Mark Alice Durant, and Anke Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, published by the Monacelli Press (April 2016).

Paulette Tavormina first carefully considered European still life paintings during the 1980s, when fellow artists in Santa Fe introduced her to the work of seventeenth-century women masters of still life, such as Giovanna Garzoni and Maria Sibylla Merian. They painted detailed, carefully composed, images of food and flowers to decorate the homes of a rising European Protestant merchant class. Tavormina’s sensitive and detailed photographs led to commercial projects, such as the illustration of a popular series of Southwestern cookbooks followed by work as a food stylist and prop specialist for feature films in Hollywood.

To explore aesthetic goals to match her technical skills, Tavormina made an extended visit to Sicily, seeking out her ancestral roots and living relations.  She returned to New York City, and began working at Sotheby’s, the international fine arts auction house.  She photographed works of art for auction catalogues, advertising, and scholarly study. Her work provided an extraordinary opportunity to observe and study European still life painting first hand.  She learned its subtlety, complexity, and life enhancing power.  Soon, in her own apartment studio, Tavormina experimented with photographic images inspired by the old masters.  She recreated still-life arrangements inspired by artists like Garzoni, and Merian, as well as Francesco de Zurbarán, Willem Claesz, Heda, and many others.  Tavormina gathers her subjects, and arranges her compositions, exactly as her forebears.  Her photographs reveal a practical knowledge of composition, color, form and illumination, comparable to their own.  Aside from her fine art work, Tavormina has continued to produce lush images for cookbooks, and historicizing photographs to illustrate such magazines as National Geographic, and The New York Times magazine.