This is a rara avis, an artist who perpetually reinvents herself, researching new concepts, new materials, new themes, yet always retaining a look, a beauty in her works that forever marks each a “Towbin.” In two memorable exhibitions she explored-philosophically and psychologically as well as aesthetically-the meaning of blue, the meaning of black. In another, she filled a white cube of a gallery with freewheeling drawings based on a single Japanese river pebble. She has simulated a high-tech electrochemical process to create magical monotypes with graphite inks. She has painted with low-tech fingernail polish. She has drawn a line on a 20,000-inch stack of computer paper to capture America’s obsession with the open road. All history is grist for her mill, from primitive markings to contemporary graffiti. And few artists are as adept at translating the mystery of dreams into tangible form-a transmutation the alchemists of old would have appreciated!
Harry Schwalb, art critic, ARTnews and Pittsburgh Magazine
Drawing tiny circles over and over to create elegant, mind numbingly beautiful and complex pencil works, Janet Towbin considers her work meditative and spiritual. Inspired by a story of a Japanese master who drew thousands of circles for many years, until he was able to draw the perfect one with just one stroke of a brush. For Encircled, from the series called Small Wonders, Towbin draws her circles, each one unique, creating a ‘complex community,’ a meditation on simplicity. She is interested in transforming randomness and chaos into pattern and does so with an exquisite and simple grace.
Julie Courtney, Independent Curator
Janet Towbin’s works on paper from her series, Meditations on a Black Stone, are equally energetic in their layered complexity and reflection of light. The series presents a process-based display of obsessive mark-making. Each drawing is inspired by the artist’s meditative musings that are transmuted into layer upon layer of expressive graphite marks on paper.
Kim Larkin, Modified Arts
Towbin’s paintings fit in somewhere between Goya and Reinhardt, although I am not making any especial claims for her work. What she invites you to do in this exhibition is to explore, with her, the diversity of blackness, from her point of view as a painter. Actually, I suspect she would prefer to use the term “maker of marks” which is a much more detached and abstracted term. Taking into account her recent work, you will appreciate that Towbin marks her canvas with the greatest fastidiousness. Drawing has always been important and many gallery-goers will remember her intense scribbled, almost automatic, drawing.
…Blackness moves beyond drawing and simple mark-making for it is also a complex question of tone, density or value. Form as mass or volume, or even negative form are issues that Towbin is obliged to explore. And blackness is seldom absolute: light falls on it, the whiteness of the canvas challenges it and the tones of silver and gray promote an endless variety of effect and significance.
Graham Shearing; The Tribune Review: That ‘Ol Black Magic
Janet Towbin…takes plant life right back to its roots and to the life of individual cells. Hers is a vision of the universe in which she richly inscribes in pencil a shaggy orb seemingly in midair here on the gallery’s white wall. The awesome result is fantastically minute in definition. This type of labor-intensive rendering has become a leitmotiv of Towbin’s drawings that are indeed now the primary medium and not just a preliminary sketch for this unusually gifted artist. Towbin seems to dislike looking for beauty in anything but the simplest forms of life, and modestly calls her latest piece Small Wonders.
Victoria Donohue, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Walls Become the Canvas at Show
…Janet Towbin draws flattened boxes, adding the decorative element missing in [Donald] Judd’s empty works. While pointing to aspects of the originals—serialization, display, materials, etc. —they add what Judd left out, creating a new kind of minimalism, or at least expanding the original definition by emphasizing meaning, the personal and the hand of the artist.
Vicky Clark; Independent Curator; Donald Judd Remix
The results of Towbin’s labor intensive and meditative process range from sensitively rendered etchings and drawings to bold, calligraphic paintings. These abstract images are a form of spiritual practice and commentary, transformations inspired by sources as diverse as Zen Buddhism, graffiti and alchemy.
Liz Spungen; Director of the Print Center; Philadelphia
The photographic works of Janet Towbin are informed by the living world and the energy that surrounds her. Clearly motivated by the action of looking, the artist focuses on the interactions and activities of nature and humanity. Her created scenarios and close-up or cropped images make viewers into voyeurs, bearing witness to tiny imagined adventures. Each brings to the spotlight an entirely fantastic and illusory journey in a single shot, yet they are simultaneously immediately recognizable.
A lifelong painter, Towbin’s keen eye and apparent appreciation for stunning colors and forms inhabited by both natural and artificial objects intensely and intently, permeate her work. Her acute relationship with and manipulation of time provides a seemingly endless vessel of concepts to explore and expand through her art.
Cindy Lisica; Cast of Characters Exhibition Catalog