As featured on the PBS "ART:21" series

ART:21- Can you talk about first making art when you moved back to New York in the 1970s.

Applebroog: As I said before, now I consider myself a generic artist. When I started out I can to New York in about 1974. At that time I didn't know anyone. I was a New Yorker, but I'd been away for a long time. So I came back and I really didn't know how to enter the art world again. I was in the art world, so I shouldn't say again, but what happened was that I started to back to my roots, just doing drawings, and for me it was like instant coffee - I can just draw and draw forever. From these drawings I started making books. Being in New York and not knowing anybody, I had access to a printing press and would mail them to people I did not know: artists whose work I really liked, people writing who I thought were interesting. I think I sent out mailings one every few months and suddenly I was, I guess, a nuisance. (laughs). Next I went into doing videos - narratives and videos. Then I worked on three-dimensional vellum paper sculptures - I'd fold them in such way that they became stagings. And working with the vellum I used to put layers of Roplex on. At one point they took Roplex off the market because it was supposed to be carcinogenic and I thought, no, I'm not going to use that, so I tried to simulate that stroke in paint. And then people liked to call me a painter. I still feel I'm not really a painter - when I work with canvases, I work with three-dimensional structures. It's about structures, it's about stagings. It's still...it's always about stagings. No matter what would happen to my hands, or the rest of my body, I'd still have my mouth and I can still plant a pencil in my mouth and work. It's like anybody that creates, they're going to find a way to create and it doesn't matter how. Now that I've given you that sermon...

ART:21- The word "power" - does it resonate for your work?

Applebroog: I like the idea, the power part. And it's the kind of thing where every time someone asks me what my work is about I always say, "It's hard to say what your work is about" (nobody really wants to say it, or they make up something that they have stuck in their heads that would sound right), "but for me - it's really about how power works." And I learned that at a very early age. I come from a very rigid, religious background. And it's the idea of how power works - male over female, parents over children, governments over people, doctors over patients that operates continuously. So it's not as though I set out to say, "Well let's see what the power balance is between this piece in my painting and that piece in my painting." This is the part we're talking about - that you never really know what you're doing until the end you realize, "Ah, that's what I'm doing...that's what I've done."

ART:21- When you look back at the work, how do you think about being a female artist during a time dominated by primarily male artists?

Applebroog: Coming out of the 50s women were pretty invisible. Women had a certain role in life. No matter what school you went to you had to make certain recipes, make sure that you got married, had children. The war was over and Rosie the riveter was over. The working women were gone and the men came back from war. I mean I was a child but I still lived through all of that. And it never occurred to me that anything was wrong, that's just the way things were. When I went back to school I was in my thirties, about thirty-five. I went back to the Art Institute in Chicago. I used to be flattered when a teacher would say to me, "oh your work is so interesting and good, it looks just like a man's." And I was very, very flattered - my work is good, it looks like a man had done it! It took me a long time to resent this and realize what Betty Friedan had said: women have a condition that has no name. I realized at a certain point, yeah, I know what that problem is and I don't know what the name is, but I have it. And coming out of the 50s and going into the 60s it was an incredible time for me to understand how power worked or how power can work. A number of years back a piece was published in "The Village Voice," it was by a male critic and he said biology is destiny - women don't have the physicality or eroticism to be painters. It was a long time ago, the 90s, I hope by now he's been somewhat radicalized. In those days we had a lot of very strong women painters around - Susan Rothenberg, Elizabeth Murray - so to have read that was incredible!

ART:21- Did the feminist movement change the work?

Applebroog: I want to tell you something, I have a real problem with feminism and art. This is something that I've always objected to. I never liked the all-women shows, it really does label us, ghettoize us. There are many woman around that say "don't call me a feminist, that's a dirty word, let's not discuss feminism." And a lot of the younger artists, not that they say that, but they feel it has nothing to do with us anymore, we're able to do all this, we're able to go out there, we're accepted, we are the gallery system. I remember when Pace had a full-page photograph of his gallery on the cover of the "New York Times Magazine." It was all male but I think there was one woman at Pace at that time. I don't remember who it was...

ART:21- Agnes Martin?

Applebroog: Oh, Agnes Martin, of course! The 80s were a very interesting time because of what happened to the art market, what happened to women. All the things that they worked towards in the 70s: feminism, minimalism, conceptualism, and performance art, it was very exciting. And then came the 80s and it became very market driven. I think we lost a lot. Now I hope we've reclaimed some of that.

ART:21- What about feminism and you?

Applebroog: No, I don't want to be placed in that crack. I don't want to have to give anyone that kind of a handle, to place us in such a way that it ghettoizes the entire way of thinking about who's making art, how art is made. You can make art from today until doomsday and if they only place you in a show that is about women artists, if that's the only thing that happens, the only place that they put the women, we're in trouble. It feels like tokenism again. And it really distresses me.

ART:21 - Would you consider yourself a political person?

Applebroog: I don't even like the word political! I don't like any words. No, I hate being labeled. I really hate being labeled. I do a lot of work on violence all the time, you know. I've also had that come at me, "Why are you so obsessed with violence" And you know my answer? I look at them and I think, "Why do you say I'm obsessed with violence?" I live in this world - this is what's going on around me. I can't change that. So when I'm going the work, it's like I'm in the studio and I have all this stuff on my back. I have all this baggage, and I try desperately to start working...I'm carrying in how the postman looked at me that morning, what happened in my personal life, what did my dealer say to me, what did my friend say on the telephone - all the different things that go on in your mind. What do I have to do? What appointments do I have? And then how do you get to do the actual marks on the canvas where that disappears? It takes a long, long time...And then this is not really what you're doing, but in a way it's like peeling off the layers, peeling off the layers. And finally you're not conscious any more of anything being there, and you're free and you're working and you don't know that time has gone by - and it's hours and hours and hours. But then you have to go back into the real world and the real world is the world that the six o'clock news is about and your own personal life, because your own personal life is involved in that also.

Ida Applebroog
A Truth With Two Faces

by Terrie Sultan

Ida Applebroog's art captures the cadences of the social and psychological deviations that dwell beneath the sanitized, orderly veneer of daily life. Seducing the viewer with its humorous edge and technical acuity at the same time that it confronts the painful violations in even the most nurturing relationships, her powerful work explores the frightening gulf between the real and the ideal through universal themes such as sexuality and power, the loss or corruption of innocence, guilt and penitence, and personal isolation in an intrusive world. Applebroog addresses these thorny issues essentially as a satirist, denouncing our lax, immoral society, revealing our base affectations, contradicting our stereotypes, and dashing our cherished icons with a sharp-edged, decidedly vitriolic, and often indignant point of view. Hers is a language of dislocation in which each work is constructed to be read image by image, like a succession of phrases. But while representationally forthright, her paintings give up their content only gradually; the nuanced subtexts of her pictures reveal a visual diction of rare precision, one that insists on telling a finely honed short story through elliptical liaisons and startling juxtapositions. Radical transformations ensue: myths and verities are stripped of certainty; innocence slips into experience; and safe havens become landscapes brimming with threat. In Applebroog's multifaceted worldview, humanity is a murky amalgam of positive and negative impulses, best observed through a cacophony of reflections and refractions that ultimately crystallize into a strongly personal vision.

Applebroog's representations often describe a tangle of missed connections, evoking the paradoxical language of Milan Kundera's "dictionary of misunderstood words," in which even the most banal expression can stand at cross-purposes with our intentions.' In the late 1970s and early 1980s Applebroog began to mine this territory in a series of works that, emulating the comic-strip format and advertising-concept storyboard, simply but effectively revealed the sometimes contradictory nature of our words and actions. She created small books that repeated a single image, binding together this repetition by a suggestive but enigmatic caption. These she sent to artists, collectors, and curators who received the unsolicited, hand- held visual poems in the spirit of their making-as an unanticipated but nonetheless seductive intrusion. At other times, she exhibited her sequences in a more publicly accessible format, as shallow cutout shadow plays or acrylic-on-vellum paintings. The texts in these paintings seem innocent enough-"I threw it away," or "Sure I'm sure"-and the same can be said for the associated pictures, which might show a couple hugging or a man taking off his coat while addressing a woman who is lying in bed. But presented within the framework of a window, these cartoonlike juxtapositions of image and text place us in the ambiguous, voyeuristic position of furtively glimpsing the activities and conversation fragments of strangers. Like James Stewart's character in Alfred Hitchcock's film "Rear Window," the viewer experiences these images and phrases as a collage of desultory snapshots of other people's lives, that while fleeting and even sometimes unsettling, stubbornly accumulate and inform our own awareness. Applebroog's fragments, which have been described as explorations into the "semantics of experience," empower us while inducing a vague feeling of anxiety over the implied but never fully stated unhappiness and isolation that resonate from our essentially passive role as watchers who see but do not act.

"Insight Bores Me" (1987) operates at the edges of our disquiet, signaling that our capacity for self-awareness is as large as our ability to become bored or distracted by our "selves." This vertical slip of a painting posits a modern parable of people who deny and avoid personal issues in favor of talking to professional strangers. Our protagonist may be literally "on the couch" but he would rather be elsewhere, perhaps, as depicted at the top of the painting, posing with his three pals at the beach. In contrast, "Jesus Loves U" (1987) is a montage of narrative details that push hard against our perception of social, political, and psychological problems. Constructed of eight panels that resemble the pages of a book or a series of freeze-frame images from a motion picture, this painting juxtaposes disparate but tenuously related scenarios, presuming a reading from left to right, top to bottom, although it is not necessary to follow this sequence in order to grasp Applebroog's meaning. Painted in grisaille, everyday people reveal peculiar personality attributes-a man with the name Dora inscribed on his forehead, or a woman with the phrase "Jesus Loves U" tattooed on the inside of her lower lip. Other panels portray anonymous individuals and events such as those experienced in any contemporary urban setting: the homeless and dispossessed, the emotionally disturbed. Strikingly, all of these people reach out to be touched and heard. Applebroog's uncanny ability to tap into our contradictory need for and fear of human contact is powerfully demonstrated by the woman depicted in the final panel As if warding off the rainlike blows of the commentary, "We must not shake hands while people are slipping into my body," her arms are raised in a defensive position. The cumulative effect of this series of narrative interruptions is a strong reminder of the irrevocable impact of both specific emotions within us and random events beyond our control.


It was during the late 1980s that Applebroog's work began to take on anincreasingly monumental scale, and the dry irony and quotidian imagery of the early works gave way to a vast, cinematic panorama of imagistic juxtapositions. With these multipaneled compendiums, the artist abandons the convention of voyeurism, breaking up the unity of the picture plane by rejecting the concept of a painted canvas as a surrogate picture window. However, her expanded narratives remain couched in enigmatic metaphor instead of staking out an absolute position in the manner of many of her contemporaries, such as Leon Golub and Nancy Spero, who paint figurative compositions with openly social or political associations. Instead, Applebroog challenges us with a titillating panoply of seductive, often frustratingly elusive allusions to interior states of being. Just as the Enlightenment artists delved into scientific theorems and strategies in an effort to visualize, categorize, and thus understand the mysteries of what author Barbara Stafford has described as the "physiological and psychological unknown," Applebroog ranges widely in compiling her imagistic encyclopedia, seeking concomitance and metaphorical cross-pollination among the disparate arenas of theology, philosophy, biology, and art.

Many works from this period mimic the structure of a medieval altarpiece. Works such as "Camp Compazine" (1988) and "Vector Hills" (1989) even have side wings that angle away from the wall to create the impression of three-dimensional space; the images on these panels support the central panel's overarching theme. Applebroog also incorporates smaller sequential paintings similar to her early works, a compositional device that Marilyn Zeitlin equates with a predella because, by portraying secondary narrative episodes, they serve the same function. Combining many different mythological allusions, art historical references, and images from popular culture, these works greatly extended Applebroog's playing field. In a series of paintings completed pleted between 1988 and 1989, loosely tied together under the rubricNostrums, Applebroog adeptly exploits sdentific and medical metaphors to create an eerie atmosphere in which these twin icons of progressive mod- ernist rationality mutate into a miasma of opposing agendas. Paintings with titles such as CampCompazine (1988), Idiopathic Center (1988), and Emetic Fields (1989) acknowledge the artist's conviction that there are no magic remedies, no secret ingredients on which we can rely to cure our ills. Elaborately staged and succinctly articulated, these paintings juxtapose the powerful with the hesitant or ineffectual, focusing on the conflict between the will to dominate and the equally strong but not always realizable desire to resist domination.

Applebroog's use of two diametrically opposed medications (Compazine to suppress vomiting, and emetics to induce it) creates metaphors for assimila- tion and expulsion in "Emetic Fields" and "Camp Compazine." In "Emetic Fields," two proverbial symbols of power-a masked surgeon and Queen Elizabeth- form the left and right wings of the central scene in which a woman, her sensible pumps rendered useless by the torturous platforms appended to her shoes, stands despondent in a garden. A modern-day Eve in the Garden of Eden surrounded by ripe fruit, she nevertheless seems unsuccored by this scene of plenty. Rather, shaded by an ominous tree that, like a nux vomica. is fecund with poisonous fruits, she seems to endure an unbearable weight of disappointment. Flanking the scene, arrayed like a garden trellis, are three additional panels that depict a series of discontinuous daily events, further blurring the boundaries between exterior and interior realities that the artist has already breached." The repeatedly stated caption, "You are the patient, I am the real person," emphasizes the artist's struggle to ascertain the moral character of contemporary life. Meanwhile, in "Camp Compazine" we find ourselves faced with an abundance of banal images that, in the artist's hands, become psychologically charged cryptograms. This dreamscape is dominated by domesticated turkeys, birds known for their gregariousness, meanness, and stupidity; they are flanked on the one hand by two stereotypical businessmen and on the other by a man, rather more frightening, who calmly but firmly clasps a small human between his teeth. This character, which openly states the consumptive activities of the businessmen, is Applebroog's version of the mythologicalgod Saturn devouring his young.' In fact, all the men in this picture operate from positions of consuming authority, whether designated by God, as the man in the uppermost panel holding the placard suggests, assumed through the mechanisms of business, or secured by infanticide, like Saturn.

The nineteenth-century German romantic composer Richard Wagner described his operas as music-dramas to denote his fusion of text and music, and invented the dominant and recurring theme of the leitmotif to unify his story lines. Applebroog uses a similar visual strategy: establishing a central theme, she then embellishes it with a host of rich variations. In the early 1990s the altarlike configurations gave way to more syncopated rhythms that are often rooted in the language patterns of children's nursery rhymes and singsong chanting. The paintings from this period play openly with language, using absurd word games, linguistic reinventions, inversions, and disruptions in their titles to offer narrative clues. "Lohengrin/bacitracin" (1990), "ooze/whose" (1991), and "circumcise/ostracize" (1991) continue Applebroog's interest in medical metaphors, but now enhanced with ironic, anecdotal comments described as "highly loaded word groups." In "Lohengrin/bacitracin," ripe eggplants spill; a woman models for an unseen knife-thrower; a man opens a woman's shirt; another combs a woman's hair; yet another man, ridiculous in an oversized suit, stands staring defiantly at us. To offer a tongue-in- cheek interpretation of the cryptic melange of images in this painting, one could invent a story based on word associations with the title: the medieval knight of the Holy Grail (and in Applebroog's lexicon, a paradigm for religious fanaticism) meets the German romantic Wagner (a prototype of modern anti- Semitism) on a field of topical antibiotics (healing) with the strains of the Wedding March (hope) in the background. Each player acts out an individual scenario of unclaimed or unmet opportunity in the artist's slightly deranged, rapid-fire translation of impulses into a multipaneled aggregate of synchronized events.


By 1991 Applebroog had made another major breakthrough in structuring the form and content of her work. Elaborating on the ability of the predella- like panels she so effectively incorporated into her large paintings to inject commentary on her main theme, she developed several series of smaller, freestanding paintings she called "marginalia." Like sentence fragments, these paintings can be exhibited in everchanging, clustered groups, or in combination with more traditional wall-mounted canvases. Vigorously asserting their physicality, the marginalia are neither distanced nor linear. Instead they provide Applebroog with a polyphonic voice capable of weaving several points and counterpoints into a three-dimensional painting. She soon began to express this idea in room-sized installations, challenging viewers with a forest of images and figure fragments that must be mentally assembled into a coherent picture. Because the artist has eliminated the safe distance between viewer and object, we find ourselves placed in medias res,squarely in tlie middle of Applebroog's theater of nonsequential events. Unstated but central to this approach is the artist's suggestion that we, as viewers, are integral in the telling of the story, and as such, have complicity in these often disturbing scenes.

Equating image with experience, the marginalia puncture space. In this world, everything is unstable; characters jump from the horizontal to the vertical, interrupting descriptive commentary with non sequiturs, disrupting the traditional object-to-viewer relationship we establish with wall-mounted paintings. An installation of marginalia in conjunction with "ooze/whose" illustrates this point. In the diptych construction of this painting, two nurses, temporarily unassigned to patients (yet another expression of Applebroog's interest in medical metaphors), are surrounded by a gridded trellis bearing abundant red roses, symbols of beauty but also of martyrdom. Countering the nurses, a man who seems to have been stitched up in the front sits at right. His privacy is further violated by the shovelful of dirt that spills down on him from the two children depicted in the panel above, and by the tiny image of a man in a suit, urinating. This scenario is played out for us within the relative security of a proscenium-like presentation. However, intruding into the room, the auxiliary visual notations of Applebroog's marginalia form a confrontational arena. Characters engaged in their own actions-a woman walking down stairs, a man holding the arm of an old woman, a younger woman sitting strapped into an electric chair- introduce tempos and tones that complicate and expand the central analogy between acts of caring and acts of punishment or violation.

Applebroog's "totem" marginalia from 1991 function somewhat differently in that they are towers of stacked one-liners. Referencing the vertical orientation of the human body, they are intended to stand alone. These quick- sketch glimpses of casual acts of everyday life, couched in the artist's signature cartoon gestures, are designed to be experienced as theater-in-the- round. Each possesses its own title and personality, but is influenced by proximity to other panels; Applebroog groups them anecdotally, like guests at a cocktail party. Stacked three or four panels high and composed of portraits, candid snapshots, and comically surreal or blandly mundane scenarios, these marginalia emulate the random chatter generated by snatches of overheard conversation or television channel surfing. Painted in monochrome, and with practically no established figure/ground relationship to fix them in time or space, they are intended to be read as fragments or sequences of communication adrift, unconnected by the cathartic thread of linear narrative. Even though the tallest stacks stand almost five feet high, the dimensions of the individual panels create a tempting atmosphere of voyeurism that, like Applebroog's earliest books, empowers us with the guilty pleasure of observing without being observed.

In contrast, other marginalia from the same year are far more assertive and deliberate. The color in such works as "Marginalia (bow girls)," "Marginalia (dancing pails)," or "Marginalia (golf man)" is dense and richly tonal; while the figures in the totem series tend to be rendered as stereotypical, inexpressive characters, the personages in this group are less symbolic and more often realized as representational personalities. "Bow girls," "iron collar," and "man with mask," for example, are compelling in their forthrightness. Often they are people we recognize. In "Marginalia (Isaac Stern)" the artist depicts the celebrated violinist Isaac Stern, performing in Israel during the Gulf War while wearing a gas mask because of a rocket attack. By using an image widely distributed through a host of media, Applebroog reinforces the common language of newspapers, television, and radio as sources that connect us to shared memories of the multiple dramas of modern life. Applebroog formulates her composition as a direct response to her observations of media presentations, and the groupings in these marginalia installations further mirror the carefully planned randomness by which news and information are disseminated through the airwaves. "I take everyday images from TV, films, magazines, the National Inquirer, anything, and repackage and recycle them," she has said. "The work is about living in the world today-about being bombarded with information overload and desensitized by shifting realities."


Applebroog's paintings from 1993-94 take as their subject childhood fairy tales and other mythological stories. In "Fatty, fatty, two by four" (1993), "Mother mother I am ill" (1993), "B, my name is Betty"{]994), and "Winnie's Pooh" (1993), the images hover somewhere between the brightness of a childhood fantasy and the brutishness of a nightmare vision. Emphasizing the sharp edge of psychological dysfunction that to the artist lurks beneath even the most seemingly benign activities, the coded morals of fairy tales and nursery rhymes are punctuated by cryptic references to personal or social disorder. Perceiving the undertones of anxiety, fear, devilishness, and even montrousness that inhabit seemingly harmless childhood ditties, Applebroog illuminates these rhymes and fables as tales from the dark side laced with a sardonic sense of humor that mitigates the chilling motives implicit in their narratives. Like the evil child in Maxwell Anderson's play The Bad Seed (1954), Applebroog's characters are complex, perhaps even schizophrenic personalities that forge powerful lives out of equal measures of humor and terror. And like other literary predecessors, for example, Lillian Herman, who often explored political and social issues in plays like The Children's Hour (1934), or Muriel Spark, whose novels such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) expose the perversity of human experience, Applebroog aggressively tackles complex problems by relentlessly stripping away societal facades to reveal the state of play between good and evil, truth and invention.

Applebroog consciously develops these dualities in both her form and content. The surfaces of her paintings are elegant, virtually glistening with a rich, buttery skin that entices us to look as if touching. Her teasing images-people and anthropomorphic animals engaged in mundane transactions, anxious encounters, or deviant behavior-draw us deeper and deeper into provocative, often intensely probing questions about human nature. At first glance, everything can seem almost all right in Applebroog's visual narrative, but there isalways something a little off. A well-dressed, "normal" couple (with the exception of their bird's heads) in "I'm rubber, you're glue" (1993) gives new meaning to the phrase "billing and cooing"; the sleeping girl whose head is about to be smashed in by a rock-wielding bear in "Mother mother I am ill" (1993) plays freely in the arena of Freudian archetypes. In the tour-de-force Jingle bells, shotgun shells (1993), the grotesque inversion of good is personified in the Santa Clans-like figure who looms with a carving knife over five sleeping children. In the foreground of this imaginary landscape, a series of nightmare images-a man in a coffin, a severed donkey and snake, a woman holding a little girl's head as she vomits, a gnarled tree tied to a post- parade subconscious apprehensions, traumas, and psychological fears, evoking the combination of pleasure and terror in Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" (c. 1510), or the complex simultaneity of ambiguous moral purposes represented in Pieter Bruegel's "Netherlandish Proverbs" (1559).

Like these historical antecedents, Applebroog's art takes an outsider's perspective and tells many different, often difficult stories simultaneously. In "Baby, baby, suck your thumb" (1994), two women in bathing suits gaze out over their shoulders, while to the right of the central diptych, macabre plantlike figures enact a scenario of peculiar aggression. All the peripheral commentary-the several images of women with their legs spread and emit- ting streams of fluid, a child sitting with elbows on knees, a well-dressed man riding on the shoulders of a much larger woman-indicates dominance, submission, and separation. "Cross my heart and hope to die" (1994) suggests the moralizing of a religious parable. This complex, eight-panel composition is a masterwork of distorted altar art: the crucified Christ, his blood running into chalices held by angels, forms the central axis from which the rest of the narrative stems. Below, a man smokes a cigarette while holding up the fingers of his hands to indicatethe numbers four and three, perhaps alluding to the seven deadly sins, perhaps to the days of the week. At the feet of the Christ figure a little girl plays with a ball and a man sips from a small teacup; on the right, a woman seems to launch her baby into space. The large, ancillary panel on the lower right shows a group of six individuals around a table; while gagged, they suggest a contemporary reiteration of the Last Supper. Additional canvases proffer still more images: small portraits of a man, a woman, and a child punctuate the overall construction, and as a coda on the extreme left, a vertical strip shows the repeated scenario of two figures standing with their backs to us, gazing at something we cannot see. What Applebroog achieves in this tapestry of intersecting concerns is a secular altarpiece in which worldliness and concrete physicality crash head-on into a sense of spirituality made visible only by the most mundane aspects of daily life. The marginalia paintings from 1993-94 also function as simple sentences, providing exposition or exclamation points that stand in contrast to the copious subordinate clauses of the paragraph-scaled paintings. Dislocated in time and space, and painted in a translucent sepia that closely resembles the color of old photographs, they offer neither catharsis nor emotion. Instead, they furnish puzzling glimpses into the way images can crowd and clutter the mind's eye, obscuring clarity.


In television specials, newspaper articles, and most explicitly in her monthly magazine Martha Stewart: Living, the quintessential 1990s lifestyle maven Martha Stewart outlines the hyperbolic, retrograde domesticity of the have-it-all "perfectwoman" in excruciating detail. In her own "Living" series (1994-96), Applebroog replaces Stewart's calendar with what she dryly refers to as "schizoid notations," taking on this return to gentility with a lucid and sardonic humor as she asks, "How could we have gone through thirty years of progress and then totally succumb to this 1990s yearning nostalgia for the typical 1950s home style?" Applebroog's "Living" series depicts six months from various years-July 1944, March 1948, December 1950, January 1956, September 1969, and November 1974. While seemingly selected at random, these dates mark personal milestones for the artist that serve as talismanic creative catalysts. Each painting is constructed with a central field of image overlays, with one or two addenda attached to the side, a formula Applebroog has used in all her work. In this case however, they reinforce the calendar conceit, making overt, real-time allusions to the task calendars in the series' doppelganger, the magazine Martha Stewart: Living. These addenda reintroduce narrative language into Applebroog's paintings with a directness not seen since such works as "Jesus Loves U" (1987). Painted in a richly appliedsienna, these sidebars bracket or anchor the more diaphanous quality of the central painting, which presents images in overlapping spheres rather than sequential arrangements. This all-over approach can be viewed from various perspectives, with different meanings gaining prominence upon each successive viewing. Such open-endedness is a new visual tactic for Applebroog, one that allows her to present delicately translucent superimpositions of intertwined figures in an almost abstract, fragmented dreamworld of remembered events. Applebroog's seductive painterly surfaces invite us to tease individual meaning from her tangled skeins of activity; the artist further encourages this task with facetious calendar entry "reminders' that, at once sinister and dryly ironic, posit impossibilities. In a profound sense, Applebroog is a contemporary explorer in what Barbara Stafford has termed "metaphorology." Formulating a visual strategy for imaging the unseen, her art reshapes the "abiding yet changing problem of the relationship of image to text, imagination to reason, body to soul. "

In the "Living" series time is the underlying metaphor. Here the calendar side- bars pace time's passing. Like phrases or measures in musical composition, they set the rhythmic background tempo of each painting, allowing the discordant central images to assume a disjointed but essentially contrapuntal syncopation that is rather like the free jazz compositions of Ornette Coleman. By fragmenting her canvases, combining straight-line narrative with imagistic foreground and background overlays, and seeding each painting with pictorial references to her own past repertoire, Applebroog concretely relates the intractability of sequential time to the imponderability of an individual's memory of an experience. It is July 1944, and our calendar reminds us to "cook out: roast rat in seaweed" and "organize Switzerland," just as Stewart might breezily exhort us to organize our sock drawer or redecorate the kitchen. Meanwhile, myriad daily activities occur: a middle-aged matron stands to the right, hands clasped demurely, her facial expression halfway between a smile and a grimace; to the left, a suited man sports a signboard reading "good boy." We can also see a tangle of legs, a man straddling a woman in an ambiguous encounter: are they engaged in an amorous adventure or a violent struggle? The entire picture plane is replete with such fragmentary images. Like a method actor's research file for a "back story" to animate a future character, this plethora of visual information provides clues to the characters' motivations, but the artist shows us both the performance and the motivations, establishing complicity between action and imagination. As usual, Applebroog poses more questions than she answers, leaving an open-ended narrative that reaches completion as we assimilate and interpret her images based on our own reality.

Applebroog is a master of the slow read, and in "Living" she deftly crafts her compositions so that we arte compelled to pay close attention, lest we miss the clues that will be the key to her conundrums. The first elements we recognize in "1948" are two women tied back-to back. Gradually we perceive the portrait of a woman with a blue-tinged face. She is almost translucent, and only slowly emerges from the gauzy haze of the images that surround her. Like objects taking shape as our eyes adjust to darkness, other figures insinuate their presence. We see fragments of bodies: legs, feet in high-heeled shoes, a man in sunglasses inspecting another man's head. Our calendar tells us it is March, and time to "unwrap outdoor virus" or "decorate terminal acne." Human intimacy seems to be the overarching theme of "1956." Another set of ladies assumes the leading roles, and we are told to "plan cure for ugliness" and "restore mama's coffin." Around these blandly dressed women swirl a series of couples engaged in everyday transactions: two people nose-to- nose, laughing, preparing to kiss; a doctor in a surgical mask consulting with his patient. Into the jumble of images the artist has floated the main character from "Chronic Hollow" (1989), described in its original context as a "young girl wearing a Mexican jaguar mask." This nightmarish apparition now appears to have emerged directly from the id. Another of Applebroog's archetypal characters invades "1950," as the sunglassed, human-chomping gangster from "Camp Compazine" nestles in the womb of a benign female figure standing front and center. Consuming her own image of infanticide, and couching this act of cannibalism within the context of innocence, Applebroog suggests that, in terms of our collective unconsciousness, there is no state of grace. Instead, she seems to be saying that we arrive into this world fully equipped for violence. A well-dressed woman in hat and coat regards the heroine. She is as experienced as the central character is innocent, and as it is December, we are reminded to prepare for the holidays, to "gild potato pancakes" on the twenty-second. Here the artist clearly mixes the metaphors of Christian and Jewish religious rites with the pagan rituals of earlier mythological gods and goddesses.


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