Epstein, a Woodstocker of almost a quarter-century, studied and then taught at Brooklyn College. He has been showing his Minimalist abstractions, enriched with calligraphic touches and a keen sense of composition and color balances, since the 1960s, and making a decent living doing commission works for corporations and hotels, many in Asia. He’s a dedicated artist who thinks deeply about all that he does.
In his quiet, woodland home, he keeps several distinct studio spaces to address the different bodies of work that he juggles. His aesthetic is singular; he gets out to shows in his hometown regularly and travels extensively. But he’s not a regular visitor to contemporary shows, and not all that concerned with the whims of the new art markets and their penchant for high concepts and flimsy craftsmanship.
Epstein is a rock-solid, mature artist who delights in all that he does, and takes pride in the systems that he has worked out for his daily work. “I trust imagination and intuition, and am fascinated with process,” he writes.
During a recent studio visit to see his latest pieces, the artist proudly shows off the masses of framed works that he has lined up to show me, grouped by elements of design and structure, emphases on architectural and visual incongruities and landscapes. He tells me how he shoots digitally and will become obsessed with capturing something special that he sees in a building or landscape – or face, for that matter. He doesn’t do Photoshop, but concentrates heavily – like the printmaking that has long been a bedrock of his “other” artwork – on the process of inkjet printing. He chooses his pigments and papers very carefully and will work through many proofs to get the effects that he’s after. “I couldn’t sleep the night I made this,” he says at several points, showing off the deep blues in a sky framed by silvery buildings, or the surreal qualities in a juxtaposition of a construction site and glossy bus ad, or some fresh graffiti in front of an old Parisian lock.
The whole time that he is pulling forth framed photos, Epstein is talking about how important it is to follow the specialness of one’s vision. He speaks in terms of competing with a host of other photographers, all local. At one point he mentions how tough it is to do something different in landscapes. He keeps mentioning the importance of “context” and “concept.” “I’m used to being the boss, of working from a blank piece of paper,” he admits. “With photography, what’s already out there is the boss.”
The works themselves share a calm sense of classic beauty with Epstein’s better-known oeuvres in painting, printmaking and mixed media abstractions. They’re well-produced and nicely sized and framed. They’ll sell in the context of Lotus, which also doubles as a frame shop and showcase for owner Jaime Barthel’s reverse-painted glass lighting fixtures, as well as in Epstein’s galleries in Florida and Germany. A few pieces, devoid of color and focused on moods within several new Frank Gehry buildings, have a particular shimmer to them that could reach into new markets. They feel like updates of what Edward Weston started decades ago.
Epstein, meanwhile, talks about how he was inspired by a show of photographs by classic early 20th-century Woodstock artists last year, then got asked to be part of a show of artists who also photograph, in Stuttgart. “I figured someone was telling me something,” he says, excitedly.
As we head out later, he pulls me into another outdoor studio building where he has been working on his “day job”: a series of fresh abstracts for a hotel complex in Hong Kong. The works are meticulous, and even more Yale Epstein than all that we’ve just seen.
“Intelligent Design,” the first-ever exhibit of photos by artist Yale Epstein, opens at Lotus Fine Art, located at 33 Rock City Road in Woodstock, this Saturday, August 13 from 5 to 7 p.m. For further information contact the gallery at (845) 679-2303 or by visiting www.Lotuswoodstock.com. For more on Epstein, visit www.yaleepstein.com.