Sylvia Fein, who turns 100 in 2019, was born and raised in Wisconsin, where she attended college with another woman who would go on to become a legendary Bay Area centenarian, Anna Halprin. In the early 1940s Fein was among a group of artists based in Madison and Milwaukee who became known as the Midwest Surrealists. After living in Mexico for several years during World War II, Fein moved to the East Bay in 1947; she received an MFA at UC Berkeley in 1951. For decades, her painting has been strongly influenced by the highly detailed style of Northern Renaissance painters such as Hieronymus Bosch and by the fourteenth-century medium of egg tempera, which endows her works with a distinctive texture and transparent quality.
Fein’s subject matter alternates between the extremely personal—portraits, self-portraits, familiar local landscapes, and other scenes from her daily life—and the fantastical, with imagery of great cosmic eyes or boundless seas channeled from her rich imagination. Fein’s work has frequently been shown alongside that of other Surrealists of her generation, including Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, and Remedios Varo, and was presented at the Whitney Annual in 1946 along with works by Jackson Pollock and Roberto Matta. Fein continues to paint daily at her home in Martinez, California, where she also cultivates an extensive orchard of olive trees.
This exhibition features a wide array of Fein’s work—made over a seventy-year period—exploring such characteristic themes and motifs as water, trees, eyes, cats, and the cosmos.