Nicole Wittenberg dreams of places. From Tangier’s earthy vistas that face the Strait of the Gibraltar to the Greek island Patmos’s white-washed buildings encrusted by the Mediterranean salt, the different characteristics of natural sunlight illuminate the New York-based painter’s musings. “I am after capturing the magic of being there,” she says from her Chinatown studio. I am not interested in the photographic reality of a place.” While this search for sensory transcendence has taken the artist across the globe, she has recently been soaking in the views of downtown Manhattan under the fall sky while preparing for her upcoming exhibition, “Our Love is Here to Stay,” which opens Dec. 16 at Acquavella Galleries Palm Beach after debuting a few new paintings at the gallery's Art Basel Miami Beach booth.
Her past summer in Maine lent the 43-year-old artist the inspiration for her lush—almost liquid—juxtapositions of floral exuberance in the show’s over 20 paintings. After a decade of visiting the towns of the New England state, Wittenberg is still fascinated by the promise of visual abundance, which she finds to be similar to her native Northern California. “I can get an intimate view of a small flower and also stare at the ocean and the mountain tops where you can see forever,” she explains. The artist calls her relationship with Maine “a visual journey,” which spans transporting the lucid impressions of the Northern Lights onto her canvases and trace inspirations of her favorite painters, such as Marsden Hartley and Alex Katz. “Most of the time, I sit at the house I rent with my eyes closed and think about the sensation of the way the land and the light feels on my body.”
As such, Broken Reflection Study, 2022 in “Our Love is Here to Stay” is dominated by bold shades of pink akin to the fiery hues the sky adopts during dusk, sliced by a row of trees on the horizon. The large painting embodies what Wittenberg typically observes a quick 20 or so minutes before sunset, when the reflection on the pond is broken into stretches of dark light: “Magically, the sky was also reflected on the water along with the mountains.”
Tree trunks populate a handful of paintings in the show, such as High Summer 2, 2022, Rhythms, 2022, and Alford Lake, 2022, where massive sprouts stand in elegant dancer-like postures, crowned with velvety tones of green and an occasional blue. The light radiating within each medley of trees is neither coincidental nor hallucinatory. Wittenberg renders her pastoral introspections dream-like; however, the 3 p.m. August sun in Maine indeed bursts through the trees, as an orange sheen reflects throughout the work. “There is a shade of intimacy in every color which comes out of a search to evoke a feeling,” she explains.
While Wittenberg considers her recent paintings “portraits of trees, which try to capture their characters,” portraiture in a rather traditional sense has been a part of her lexicon, too. In the last few years, the artist has garnered attention with her paintings of faces dressed with sexual reverie and bodies contorted within moments of orgasmic joy based on images she culls from pornographic websites. Sex and nature, in fact, prompt Wittenberg in similar ways. “I wake up and find flowering, blossoming, bees buzzing, and animals mating,” she says. The sensuality of a moment—whether burgeoning with the earth’s colorful blossoms or drenched with carnal desire—seeps into the artist’s imagination and lingers across her canvases. “There is nothing more joyous than experiencing the nature as it intended to be,” she adds. “I look for painting the imagined and re-imagined of what I see and feel.”
“Our Love is Here to Stay,” will be on view from December 16, 2022 through January 10, 2023 at Acquavella Galleries Palm Beach.