Although Howard Fussiner’s Slifka Center exhibit, “Northern Shores,” opened last spring, it is strangely appropriate to look at his depictions of the sun-kissed days of summer in the bittersweet chaos of the new fall semester.
His acrylic paintings of shorelines, mountains and children in shorts play like a memory filtered through the stained glass of nostalgia. The primary colors are bright and enticing; they are the simplistic palate of childhood.
His brushstrokes — bold, geometric yet organic — recall the fuzziness of fallible memory rather than realistic observation. Even the very outlines of Fussiner’s landscape figures, carried out with loose brushstrokes of dark paint in soft rounded curves, serve the dual purpose of recalling the ambiguity of remembrance and the crayon drawings of youth.
In these paintings, there is the perpetual presence of a perfect day, an unseen sun punctuating rays of light into the perfect blue of the sky. The landscapes are devoid of conflict, serene and unspoiled in their seizure of time. It is the utopia of summer, the paradise of youth, and with that, a jarring contrast to the turmoil of the present.
In fact, there is a simultaneous undertone of melancholic realization in the artist’s paintings, where blissful memories of the summer are filtered through nostalgia, preserving perfect visions of these recollections.
Even though there is liberal use of bright colors, there are subtle but conspicuous dark brushstrokes. These little visual obstacles impede the casual enjoyment of the paintings, such as the presence of jagged green-brown trees and angular houses. Fussiner even uses the medium itself to disturb the illusion of his utopic landscapes. In one particular painting, for example, “Dyptich Maine Coast,” the canvas is split into two, enhancing the effect of viewing the land through a glass window and disrupting a relaxed perception of the lake it depicts.
The subject matter also plays to this effect. Even though there is no blatant conflict, we see the presence of violent waves against the depictions of cliffs, and the white foam disturbance of an unpredictable sea. In one painting, “Rocks of Flye Point,” we see the rocks of the shore painted the joyous and youthful colors of red, blue and yellow, but they also recall the jagged form of broken stained glass.
The entire effect of the exhibit seems to lead the viewer on an emotional journey from a bitter longing for the freedom of the summers of yore to a wiser understanding of the fleeting promise of youth.
What once seemed to be a blissful representation of all that was good in the past and all that is wrong in the present becomes, then, an exercise in reflection. It is good to cherish the past — the striking aesthetics in Fussiner’s paintings ensure that. But it is also unwise to dwell in the present.
In this era of classes, careers, work and the misleading recollections of “the good ol’ days,” Fussiner’s exhibit is a prudent lesson for our present lives.