On a visit to the museum this afternoon I was excited to discover the painting of Sylvia Fein, an East Bay artist who continues to pursue her craft at age 100 (she was born on November 20, 1919). Fein came from Milwaukee originally and became one of a group of artists in the 1940s known as the Midwest Surrealists. During WWII she lived and painted in Mexico before returning to the US and settling permanently in Martinez.

Musical Sky Eyes, 2010; egg tempera on board; 24 x 20.4 inches

In this age of plastic, I am charmed by the fact that Fein paints in the ages-old medium of egg tempera. “Tempera (Italian: [ˈtɛmpera]), also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually glutinous material such as egg yolk. Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. Tempera paintings are very long-lasting, and examples from the first century AD still exist. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting.” Wikipedia. Using this delicate medium she achieves gorgeous coloration, layering veils of transparent and translucent paint. Her subject matter varies from near abstraction to portraiture to sea storms, trees and animals. A number of the paintings on display depict human eyes; however, these eyes encompass entire cosmoses.

Fein’s paintings are all modest in size, some the size of postcards and none much more than 20 inches by the largest dimension. This small scale and minute detail has the benefit of rendering the paintings intimacy. There is something precious about them and moving from each painting to the next was like discovering hidden treasure for me.

I wish I had discovered this exhibit and written about it earlier. It is up through March 1st. I would encourage anyone to see this show but, in particular, I think artists will appreciate and marvel at Fein’s technical skill. The magic is in her use of an ancient medium with which she creates a surreal world that is both contemporary and timeless.