‘Things Are Not What They Seem’

Abstract artist goes full circle at Garrison Art Center

By Alison Rooney

Marylyn Dintenfass, known for her innovative approach to materials and technologies as a painter, sculptor, printmaker and installation artist, also happens to be a part-time resident of Garrison. And so she offered the Garrison Art Center on Garrison’s Landing something it might not ordinarily be able to book: a solo exhibit of her work.

The show, Ocular. Echo, opens Saturday, May 27, with a reception from 4 to 6 p.m., and runs through June 18. It features paintings from a series inspired by the Hudson Valley and created in and around Garrison.

Marylyn Dintenfass (Photo by Alvia Urdaneta)

The circle is a recurring symbol in Dintenfass’ work, the “prism through which I consider my engagement with the visual variety of nature,” she explains. “Color, shape and transparency are used as expressions of change; metaphors for ecosystems of water, earth, air, flora and fauna.”

In her paintings, Dintenfass frequently experiments with paints, working on wood panels segmented into grids. In an essay in the monograph Marylyn Dintenfass Paintings, critic and curator Lilly Wei notes that after completing a painting, the artist “takes it apart, treating each panel as a discrete entity, exchanging panels between works in an aesthetic mix-and-match as she searches for interactions and relationships of color and form that satisfy her sense of visual excitement, sparked by the frisson of the dissonant.”


Dintenfass’ abstract imagery usually appears as stripes or circles arranged across translucent layers of matte and glossy textures. “She took Abstract Expressionism and made it her own,” explains Becky Gordon, the exhibition coordinator at the Garrison Art Center. “There are usually up to 20 layers, each saturated with color yet translucent. Each exists independent of each other, but they work together to create an ecosystem using basics of design and color as a metaphor for things which exist in the world. It’s almost like looking through a microscope, blown up.”

Born in Brooklyn in 1943, Dintenfass was exposed to others working in the Abstract Expressionist movement while getting her bachelor’s in fine arts from Queens College. Initially she focused on sculpture devised from ceramic and elements like steel and wax coated with epoxies. Drawing inspiration from architecture, her sculptures became installations. (One example: a 30,000-square-foot installation on the exterior of a parking garage in Fort Myers, Florida.)


Whatever the medium, Dintenfass says “the overarching theme is things are not what they seem. Inherent in that is a sense of duality, and that sense is what intrigues me.”

A show she mounted in 2015, Oculus, consisted of a dozen works that each measured 77-by-77 inches. Each depicted a circle. A critic for Artnet described them as “variously reminiscent of the iris of an eye, an oculus, a distant planet seen through a telescope, an archery target, or a nipple. In each case, however, a sense of swirling movement defined through color surrounds and offsets a solid central circle … In spite of the apparent repetition of imagery, each picture provides a different visceral and visual experience … These paintings are all about the meditative quality of color, how it vibrates and how revealing and concealing can impact our perspective.”

“For me they’re narratives,” says Dintenfass. “If the color is maybe a character or the symbol, or the design, it’s a narrative. The circles are not completely contained within the square. The reason for that is that they could slip away — at any moment life can change.


“People have seen different things in my work, molecular to the galactic. What matters the most to me is not what they see, but what the paintings inspire them to feel.”

Dintenfass’ work is held in more than 30 collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Twice a fellow at The MacDowell Colony, she also taught for 10 years at Parsons School of Design.

As part of the exhibit, Lisa Mackie will present a print workshop on June 10 called “Key Matrix,” and Dintenfass will talk and take questions about her work on a date to be determined.

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