A landscape painter currently living in New York City and Bridgewater, Connecticut, Pamela Sztybel was trained as a figural painter in the academic manner. Over time she gravitated to landscape as she found it the best subject matter with which to create works of extreme simplicity that explore the limits of cognition and memory. Her subtle, abstract images, portraying sites in New England and Europe, carry on the American Tonalist tradition.
Indeed, like the Tonalists, Szytbel works in the studio, deriving her images from recollections of places she has seen, and she uses drawings and photographs only as aides-de-memoir. Her influences include the art of Camille Corot, Giorgio Morandi, John Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, and the American Tonalists, in particular the late canvases of George Inness. However, while her works evoke the moods of quietude and reverie in Tonalist depictions, Sztybel’s images do not have the metaphysical dimension of Tonalist art. Rather than drawing the viewer into an appreciation of a spiritual realm beyond the known world, their emphasis is on the fragile nature of experience in the context of daily life.
Working in oils on paper and linen, Sztybel's process is to isolate aspects of particular places and winnow them toward their essence. Abstracting them to their most elemental shapes, she expresses them through a sfumato effect in which a
shifting balance of atmospheric light and dark become her subject matter. Blurring forms and softening outlines, she gives her works a spatial incongruity in which depth and surface are indistinguishable, expressing the nature of places reconceived in the mind. With her reductive process, Sztybel brings out the richness of the tonal values within her closely limited coloristic ranges, straining our vision almost beyond its normal capacity. An admirer of Sztybel's art, the noted landscape painter Wolf Kahn remarked recently that “she uses a restricted range of color which allows her to exercise exact tonal control. She has an innate sense of beauty, together with a fine touch of the brush.
Sztybel was born in New York City and studied at the New School for Social Research, in the M.F.A. program at the New York Academy of Art, and under Wolf Kahn. She currently serves on the Art Collection Committee of the Board of Trustees of the New School University, and has had fellowships to work at both the Santa Fe Art Institute and the Vermont Studio Center. She has also participated as a visiting artist and as a teacher at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, Italy, and has taught workshops at Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut; the West Liberty State College in West Virginia; and the Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts in New Jersey. Her works can be found in numerous corporate and private collections. —Dr. Lisa Peters