Irving Petlin


"This artist reaches us bearing the traces of lives, of times and places, which we recognize through him but would otherwise have forgotten in our rush to achieve that disembodied weightlessness which is our defensive response to the present condition of the world. Like a wondrous sea creature which surfaces from unknown depths, trailing lost mysteries in its wake, Petlin brings to us densely compacted layers of being and remembering: Eastern Europe; Judaism; the American Diaspora; life in the immigrant streets of Chicago; Europe again—the School of Paris; Symbolism, Pointillism, Surrealism, but also Mediterranean structure; the Holocaust; memories of the father; and of the father’s memories; endless sacrifice, horror; tragedy. All are present here, and in such memories there is both catharsis and redemption, as Europe and America enter into and transform each other; resolving this unbearable flux into a communicable vision. It is a task beyond the reach, and outside the very ambitions, of almost any artist in our time, and certainly of anyone but Petlin since Kitaj’s works of the 1970’s. In the present works—the “Weisswald”—these ambitions are realized at the highest level of artistic and human synthesis.”

– Edward F. Fry