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Written by Elisa Turner, BT Contributor   
March 2020

In memoriam: Lynne Golob Gelfman

SArtFeature_1haring hugs and stories, family and friends gathered for a memorial service in January at the home of Lynne Golob Gelfman. A revered, longtime Miami artist, Gelfman died at age 75 on January 20, 2020. During the service, gentle winter rain fell on palms and ferns of the South Florida hammock surrounding her home and studio. Here are some remarks that floated out over the crowd, which numbered around 200:

“Her painting was an expression of her vitality. We always knew it was an okay day if she was able to paint.”

“She really embodied what it meant to be a good friend. And taught others how to be a good friend.”

“You didn’t have a meal with her. You had an artistic experience.”

Making up a good portion of the crowd was a who’s who of South Florida’s art community: current and former museum directors, fellow artists, and a broad spectrum of art professionals who were also Gelfman’s friends. They clustered together out of the rain but in full view of the verdant foliage Gelfman loved. Live oak trees soared among palm trees, ferns, heliconias, and bamboo. She drew frequent inspiration from the green abundance of South Florida, an evolving presence in her abstract paintings.

ArtFeature_2She also took inspiration from her collection of objects -- including baskets, textiles, and bowls -- gathered from extensive travel with her husband, Dan, particularly in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America. Those objects, in addition to her paintings, books, and work by Miami artists Carlos Alfonzo and Robert Chambers, greeted guests to her home that day with vibrant warmth, almost as if Gelfman herself were welcoming them.

“A Kuba textile from Zaire can start with one pattern and jump to another as the weaver feels free to meander from the original plan,” Gelfman said in an interview with Lisa Wohl for a 2013 book about her art. “The weaver starts with tradition, diagramming a plan or working from memory, and as the work progresses, changes happen. …Like the Kuba weaver, I embrace trial and error. I make the rules of the game and can break them.”

As a painter, she was deeply committed to abstraction, yet explored endless variations on her signature interlacing compositions, weaving inspired disruptions to the classic Minimalist grid. She delighted in unexpected encounters with color, line, and texture; in her “thru” series, she painted grids on the backs of canvases so that the forms bled through to the front in distorted patterns. For one exhibit she invited visitors to wear gloves so they could feel textures created by brushstrokes and an electric sanding machine.

ArtFeature_3Over the years, she sanded through densely layered surfaces to excavate slivers of buried color, occasionally burnishing the canvas with echoes of textiles. For a decade she painted on wood or Masonite, before returning to canvas around 2014.

In addition to paintbrushes, she employed various tools to achieve complex surfaces, including spatulas, sponges, and plastic scrapers. “I try for the ambiguity of illusion,” Gelfman told Wohl. “What you see is not what you get. At a distance, the paintings may appear to be thickly painted, but up close the viewer sees that the surfaces are almost as smooth as photographs.”

Gelfman’s art has been in more than 40 solo shows in international and national galleries and museums; it’s in numerous private and public collections. In September 2018, Pérez Art Museum Miami presented the comprehensive solo show “Grids: A Selection of Paintings by Lynne Golob Gelfman,” with around 25 paintings, including works from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Gelfman’s Miami gallery, Tile Blush, presents her recent “wall works” series through March 7. More museum recognition is clearly warranted.

Suzanne Delehanty recalls meeting Gelfman in January 1995, when she came to Miami to lead Miami Art Museum, the institution preceding Pérez Art Museum Miami. “She and Dan invited to me to their house for dinner. I remember being enchanted by her paintings and collection of indigenous artifacts. She and Dan were consummate hosts and I’m sure he will continue in his own way,” Delehanty says. “She was always a big champion of artists from Miami. She was one of the pillars of the Miami art community. I’m very happy that we had one of her paintings early on in the museum’s collection when we did begin collecting in 1996. Certainly when I saw her show at PAMM, it was like a dream come true. It was so perfectly installed; every work was perfectly selected.”

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In the summer of 1971, Gelfman went on a blind date with her future husband. They were living and working in New York City, having been raised and educated not far from the city. Both had spent time in Latin America. In their kitchen, Dan smiles to remember the irony and pleasure of that date. “On our first date I took her out to a Cuban restaurant in New York, never thinking that I was going to be moving to Miami, because at that time I had not started the flower business. Then I really needed to be here to get it going.” The following summer they were married, on June 25, 1972. That year they moved to Miami.

Gelfman told Inspicio in 2016 that that after living in New York City, moving to Miami was a “culture shock.” But she adapted, spending extended time with Dan in Colombia as he developed his flower business there. Later his business involved travel to Israel.

“She totally embraced what I was doing, and she had the freedom to explore what she did,” he remembers. “We shared a passion about discovery and travel. We liked meeting new people. As things evolved, Lynne was with me for three or four times a year for extended periods.” Eventually, trips included their children Josh and Laura. “We went with little kids to Egypt. Nothing held us back,” he says.

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A much later trip to Tunisia led to Gelfman’s 1999 “dougga” series, with grayish geometric shapes evoking clay shards scattered across shadowy fields of sand.

Sand dunes of Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses National Park inspired her “dune” series, begun in 2010. “It’s a magical place,” Dan remembers. They traveled there after the rainy season when ponds had formed among enormous dunes. Gelfman’s abstract “dune” paintings beautifully evoke a sense of shimmering mystery. “You see pictures of the dunes and you see Lynne’s paintings. You see how they relate to one another,” he says. She conjured the essence of places by drawing on indelible memories, never painting from photographs.

A stage-four cancer diagnosis didn’t stop Gelfman from working in her beloved studio, he remembers: “Nothing stopped her. Till the day before we went on her last trip to Baptist.”

 

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