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Perceptualistics

Art by Jael, text by John Grant

(Paper Tiger, $29.95, 112 pages, hardback, May 2002.)

"For Jael, the painting of [the Perceptualistics] is the telling of a story for herself; when each of us looks at them, we must tell our own story."

I have been given an impossible task. You see, I must review a very wonderful book of art without being allowed to cover scantell you what the paintings reproduced within it are about. I can tell you they were created by one of the most imaginative artists working in the fantasy art field today, one whose story is almost as fascinating as her work. I can tell you that the award-winning author who contributed the text tells the story with such intimacy it is as though he's sitting across the table talking with the reader one-on-one (with interjections from the subject herself). And I can tell you that the book itself meets the usual top-of-the-line production values we've come to expect from Paper Tiger.

But I cannot describe the treasures to be found within the book's gallery without violating the very principle upon which they were created.

The "Perceptualistics" found within this book are "self inspired paintings -- mainly in the semi-abstract ... style that is quite unique to (the artist)." They are imaginationscapes of colour and form, some sharp and piercing, others soft and almost unfocused, but each emotionally and/or intellectually stirring to the viewer. Jael has infused each Perceptualistic with great potential for serendipitous revelation from within.

But I discovered there is also a covenant that comes with these Perceptualistics, one that must be followed to the letter. Each is a personal journey taken by the artist and presented to the viewer, the route and destination to be determined only by the viewer her/himself. What s/he sees in each painting cannot be wrong as long as it is true. And what the artist saw while painting them is irrelevant to the viewer's own journey, so don't ask her to interpret them for you. Unlike, say, David Ho (whose Shadow Maker: The Digital Art of David Ho is reviewed elsewhere in infinity plus), who insists that the viewer be privy to the self-examination that accompanies many of his surrealistic pieces, Jael's thoughts about each Perceptualistic are off-limits to us all. Sorry.

That's because Jael creates her Perceptualistics to liberate the imagination and to expand and explore it. As quoted earlier, they are "semi-abstracts"; therefore, images are to be found within each and stories gleaned from those images. To be any more specific would force me to attach my own descriptions and interpretations to the pieces, thereby violating the covenant.

Who says a reviewer's job is easy?

I can tell you about the artist's media. Jael works almost exclusively in oils or pastels, and she is a master in the use of each. And I can mention the Perceptualistics' original sizes, ranging from 10in (25.5cm) to 3ft (91.5cm) in width or height. The artist shows preference to no colour in particular; Jael moves around the colour wheel with a freedom appropriate to her art.

I can tell you about Jael herself, because, although she stays mum about interpreting her Perceptualistics, she willingly -- no, joyfully -- shares her life story with us through the picturesque text of Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning author John Grant. And it's a story suitable for a Lifetime Network television movie because it tells of close matriarchal family ties and marital hardship and dissolution, ultimately leading to self-triumph.

A product of pre-WWII Salt Lake City, Jael was raised in an environment that fostered creativity. Her mother was a composer who produced musical presentations for various media, and she frequently incorporated young Jael in her shows as a singer and dancer ("like Shirley Temple"). Her adoptive father was a respected West Coast lawyer. It was when an elderly family friend gave her a copy of Alice in Wonderland that Jael became fascinated with the world of fantasy -- and fantasy art, from the accompanying illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. (Later, the surrealistic story concepts in Alice would affect Jael's consideration of the alternate realities behind the Perceptualistic paintings.)

At nineteen, she married and became a conventional housewife and nurturing mother, raising her three children, adoptive daughter and nine Native American foster children (one of whom died tragically) while tending a farm in Utah owned by her adoptive father. After an unfortunate three-year relocation within a subdivision, Jael and her family moved to another farm. It was on this second farm that she would no longer be able to avoid dealing with "inner issues she was still failing to address".

Like doing what she was meant to do. Like painting.

Portraits of her children. The animals on the farm. She had earned money in art as a teenager and the time came when she would go about it again. For starters, she did portraits at the Utah State Fair. Later, when her husband was seriously burned in an accident, the possibility arose that the family would have to rely on Jael's commercial art as a sole means of support. She earned a degree from the University of Utah so that she would be able to teach art in school.

And all the while she challenged convention with her artwork. Most often, it was in the form of the nudes she entered for art guild contests. On other occasions, it was with the Perceptualistics.

Meanwhile, the family lost the farm to bankruptcy and Jael went out to teach art in a local high school. The financial strain was too much for the marriage and it collapsed. After the divorce, Jael took the kids and moved to Las Vegas, where she returned to painting portraits. Seven years and several commissions later, she was off to Northern California. It wasn't long before this determined artist was gaining commissions for book covers. (Her second was for a paperback edition of Robert Silverberg's award-winning Shadrach in the Furnace.) After an association with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, who insisted she move to New York "where the illustration jobs were", Jael decided to take a bite of the Big Apple.

That was in the early 1980s. What followed has been a successful career as an illustrator and commissioned artist. And fortunately for us, Perceptualistics doesn't ignore this segment of Jael's career. In addition to the seventy-page gallery comprised mostly of Perceptualistics, we are treated, alongside Grant's biographical text, to thirty-seven examples of Jael's most representative illustrations, including the artwork for the cover of Piers Anthony's Letters to Jenny, which features the comatose subject dreaming of herself in a colourful fantasy-forest setting; The Black Dahlia, an art-noir study in classic automobiles and mysterious women; Dream Fantasy/Galespace, a sultry blonde with a black cat, an exotic bird, an odd-looking being and a sprite, all suspended within what might be described as a Perceptualistic; and a pencil drawing of The Dream Lives (the finished piece is reproduced as a frontispiece), Jael's tribute to the ill-fated Challenger crew. (As explained in the text, it was this last piece that led, in a roundabout way, to the creation of this book.)

I can tell you that Jael was inspired to create the term "Perceptualistics" from the passage in William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that reads:

If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.

And I can tell you that this biker-babe great-grandmother has become an overnight sensation after over forty years as a professional artist with the publication of this, the first book of her artwork. But please don't get the impression that Perceptualistics is the culmination of a lifelong journey, because it is not; it's truly only one glorious pause along the way.

And, finally, I can tell you that you owe it to your imagination to go down to your nearest bookstore and get hold of a copy of Perceptualistics as soon as you can. Then bring it home, curl up in your favourite chair and open your copy anywhere within the gallery section. The journeys that await you, though unallowable to describe, are nothing short of spectacular.


Review by Randy M Dannenfelser.

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