I’d thought I would write to you today about Stella and Miriam. Stella’s and Miriam’s works are both expressionistic yet dissimilar. Both oeuvres are of equal significance to me. I have never favored one body of work over the other. I am given solace and restfulness while viewing one of Stella’s installations. With Stella’s work my mind dreams peacefully, expansively. I dream contentedly. I find Stella’s work to be religious. It is a contemporary interpretation of Catholic ritual and spiritual awe. It is also escapist. Yet while viewing a Beerman I cannot dream. Her paintings are so over determined. They profoundly disturb. They are over wrought. But nonetheless they are beautiful, sublime and speak of humanity’s difficult history.
Stella never talked philosophically about her work or of other artists. She maintained a mysterious persona. Miriam doesn’t reveal much about her personal self either. Their human quirks and frailties seem unimportant when viewing their accomplishments. I understood why a New York art dealer told me that “the deader an artist the better”. Stella and Miriam were difficult people. I was always the understanding and gracious one with both of them.
I got to know Miriam Beerman well through organizing her retrospective for the New Jersey Artist Series: Contemporary Arts The New Jersey Context in 1990. For almost a year I visited weekly to look at her painting and talk about their motivations and her life experiences. It was the best day of my week, besides my studio days. An intellectual suffering from depression, she continues to immerse herself in interpretations of violence and evil nonetheless. She is an avid reader of poetry, history of the Holocaust, ranging from the Lodz ghetto diaries to Elie Wiesel. Her studio is in the attic of her home. Though she has propped against one wall in her dining room a large canvas that won’t fit up her winding stairs and uses an empty bedroom for her large collage installations. My friend Jamie Fuller, a minimalist sculptor, saw Miriam’s retrospective in 1991 and remarked that the work was too emotional. Is that why Miriam is relatively unknown? Are they too European for Americans, too rooted in Van Gogh? Do they produce too much anxiety in the viewer? When she paints it is always from the viewpoint of the tortured, though her love of paint, color and surface both tempers and alters its impact. She loves the victims of evil. Her late paintings are paint laden. Each painting exorcizes the haunting anti Semitism of her youth in Rhode Island. Miriam’s self portrait, The Pink Skull, Self Portrait with Muse is repulsive. Areas are both bright and dark, boldly and heavily confronting death. Miriam looming, a dark animal and a skull are all archetypes and muses for victimization, anxiety and soul. For instinct and morality, compulsion and desperation. She pets the aggressor, confronted by the pink skull nearby without looking at it. Horrific.