Locals are used to seeing Ze’ev Willy Neumann’s sculptures in area galleries and in his former workshop on First and Livingston streets in Saugerties. Since he has been ill, and has lost income, he is living in a small apartment at The Mill senior-citizen housing. The apartment does not offer space for large works he used to produce, so he has gone back to a genre he has not worked within in many years: painting.
Neumann has been creating works on plywood panels using a palette knife. “I don’t use brushes,” he said. “I could not imagine not creating,” he said.
Neumann’s paintings are on display along the wall of a walkway along the shore of the Esopus Creek adjacent to The Mill. They are small in size. Most are abstract, with sharply drawn lines, and many use techniques that create the illusion of three dimensions.
The pictures line the entire wall along the walkway, displayed as neatly as if they were in a gallery. Neumann does not attach price tags; in fact, he said, “I’m not so interested in selling them.”
Neumann tries to create images of love and some humor. His love-knot bench is one of his best-known images in Saugerties and Woodstock. He created a pair of benches, one for each town. They are designed to provide seating, as well as a mes-
sage of love (the basic heart shape), of eternity (the base is an infinity symbol), and of sorrow (what looks like a small oval at the point at the top of the heart is a tear).
The sculpture is displayed in Saugerties at the parking lot adjacent to The Reis Group insurance office on Market Street. The lot is currently filled with tables to provide an outdoor setting for people buying takeout food at nearby restaurants.
After his many years of working in sculpture, Neumnann’s painting conveys a sense of form and three-dimensionality. One, a picture of a paper cutout with its edges curled up, tempts the viewer to seize a corner of the apparently lifted paper, so convincingly it is painted. In other works the viewer has a sense of stacked objects.
Neumann recalled bringing a rusted piece of metal mesh home. “I folded it in half, and immediately you get different geometric shapes and I hung it,” he said. “And it’s there forever! It was there for years and years. And then I began to paint this [he gestures toward a painting showing contrasting grids], totally unaware that it was inspired by that piece. For me, that is a very significant image rather than something totally symmetrical.”
Neumann is an admirer of the work of the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian who lived from 1878 to 1957, and whose work influenced modern ideas and styles in art.
When Neumann began creating sculpture, he had to make the transition from two-dimensional art to three-dimensional, he said. In order to develop a sense of three-dimensionality, Neumann said, “I would dip a piece of cloth into plaster and I put it into the frame with all kinds of folds and interesting forms.” In a homage to this work, Neumann is now creating two-dimensional works with a three-dimensional feel, he explained.
“Sometimes I start to draw an idea for a painting, and I don’t like it, and I scratch it out. So I thought the scratching out was interesting, so I made this painting.” Elaborate black lines on a white background in the work he gestures toward do, indeed, resemble a scratched-out surface.
What comes through in Neumann’s art is the sense of experimentation, of looking for something new. It seems impossible, looking at his work, to realize that the fine lines and dots on some of the works were all produced with a palette knife, not a fine brush. He declined to explain how these fine lines and dots were achieved.
“We are living in horrific times,” Neumann said. But history has a way of balancing, he thinks, like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other. Two of the paintings in his display illustrate the theme. A dark vision built of a canvas divided equally into black and white shows a pendulum at the point furthest into the black. Another shows multiple pendulums across the field – the pendulum will not remain in the extreme position, but will swing back.
“But I’m afraid of the pendulum swinging all the way to the left side because that would bring another extreme. I want the pendulum to come down and stay somewhere near the middle.”
For Neumann, each painting, or series of paintings, is an act of discovery. “I basically want to surprise myself,” he said. “I’m versatile because I don’t want to bore myself. I want to jump into all kinds of artistic venues.”
His gallery was called “double take” because that’s the spirit in which he works, Neumann said. “I want people to look at it once, then do a double take and look at it again.”|
It is hard to see how much can be accomplished in a small studio apartment with relatively simple materials, and it is hard to picture that huge warehouse in which he once worked, and the monumental pieces he created there.
Neumann will be displaying his work along the path into Tina Chorvas Park, off Bridge Street in Saugerties, adjacent to The Mill housing development, on three upcoming weekends: September 12-13, October 3-4, and October 10-11.