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Helen Lundeberg by Annabel Osberg

Helen Lundeberg (1908-1999) wrote in 1942 that her aim was “to calculate, and reconsider, every element in a painting with regard to its function in the whole organization.” The renowned Post-Surrealist’s precision of shape, color and composition is amply displayed in “Helen Lundeberg: Interiors” at Louis Stern Fine Arts, which includes 15 scenes she painted between 1943-1980. These enigmatic interiors seem as absorbing as if they had just departed her easel. Spaces appear perplexing in unexpected ways: windows and doorways open into no-man’s-lands of flat luminous color; corners seem to pop forward and backward; walls inexplicably open to reveal peekaboo snatches of scenery. Each scene’s arcaneness gives way to an overall feeling of contemplative serenity. Paradoxically, the portrayed expanse of Inner/Outer Space (1943) seems wider, almost limitless, by virtue of the long narrow painting’s diminutive scale as a purple room at the panel’s far left opens into a pitchy landscape presided over by the full moon that, in turn, leads into desolate mountains at the other end of the painting. Lundeberg’s soft, naturalistic realism in paintings such as this and Enigma of Reality (1955, pictured above) eventually led to compositions of sharply delineated color blocks that share their starkness with hard-edge abstraction while maintaining representational palpability. Despite their unreality, The Mirror (1952-1969) and Studio Interior (1980) radiate the uncanny impression that one could slip inside either painting as though it were magic, like the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and get lost in a vast realm between flat pastel planes.

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