Some artists – Vincent Van Gogh comes to mind - are fated not to receive the recognition they deserve until they have died. Janet Sobel, whose work is currently on view at the James Barron Gallery in Kent until June 19, is such an artist.
Sobel, who came to this country from Ukraine in 1908, did not start painting until 1937 when she was her forties and already a mother of five with several grandchildren. She began teaching herself the craft using her son’s art materials and “experimenting with mixed materials and drip painting.”
By 1943 she had become an important presence in New York’s art world with exhibitions at the Puma Gallery and at Peggy Guggenheim’s “Art of This Century,” where her small colorful abstractions overlaid with swirling drips of paint caught the notice of Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg. In fact there were those who said that it was Sobel’s work that that inspired Pollock’s drip paintings.
Sobel created small colorful paintings in which faces that call to mind Chagall peek out from dense thickets of blossoms. Trails of black paint wind their way over the surface of some of the works to give them a three dimensional quality. The overall effect is charming and at the same time quite powerful. These are not just pretty flower pictures.
Sobel’s moment of fame was all too brief, and by 1947 she was already sinking into obscurity. She had left New York for New Jersey, far removed from the center of the art world where one must be seen to be remembered. In addition, for a woman working as a an abstract expressionist -- a field dominated almost entirely by men -- it was almost impossible to be recognized as an artist of consequence. As a result until only recently Sobel has been largely unknown. James Barron believes, “the time is ripe for revisiting Sobel’s work, which defies categorization and continues to fascinate.”