SHADOWS & FOG
: Jill Rosean Tishman
– Paul Weideman . The
Santa Fe New Mexican Nov.
Towering black trees arch over a path that leads
into an indistinct,
glowing region. Up ahead is the unknown, but it is bright there.
Jill Tishman, who created Grand Forest in the Mist using gray-and-black
(chalk) pastels, loves foggy landscapes, although that doesn’t wholly explain
this place toward which her paths lead. Part of the reality is
“The photo I worked from was taken by my daughter, Victoria, in Nepal,
with me in mind,” Tishman said. “The end of the path is bright and
mysterious. It’s a common theme for me because life is mysterious.
“For the last 15 years I’ve collected images of arching trees over
pathways. It’s something in my head. I can’t quite get through that
I think I’m looking for awareness about life. There’s usually light
end of the path, and I always feel drawn to the end.”
The artist based Woods at Yasnaya Polyana (also Walking Through Woods) on
a 1908 photo of Leo Tolstoy walking through the woods of his estate outside
Moscow. Tishman, long a fan of Russian literature, writes, “When visiting
Russia, I was struck by the almost surreal height and magnificence of the
“My interpretation of the piece came from a dark depression I felt and
that lifted when fog appeared in the image.”
Fog figures prominently in her paintings. It seethes through her trees,
and it works perfectly to embody the portentous haze at the ends of her
“I grew up in the fog in California,” she said. “As a little
walking to school, I could only hear the click-click of my feet, and I
couldn’t see or hear anybody else.”
That’s an explanation for the lack of human figures in Tishman’s
She said it distinguishes her paintings from those of 19th-century painter
Caspar David Friedrich, who exhibited a similar predilection for foggy
scenes. It also allows the viewer “to walk down the path with me,” she
Tishman earned her master’s degree in philosophy at Ball State University
in Muncie, Ind., and worked toward a doctorate in philosophy at the
University of Wisconsin, Madison. She later studied art at the San Francisco
Art Institute and the Santa Fe Art Institute.
Eleven years ago she did her first painting in the black-white spectrum.
The piece, Forest of Shadows, was well-received, including at Museum of Fine
Arts, and that was one reason she moved to Santa Fe from Mill Valley, Calif.
“I still work in color when someone wants me to, but I enjoy
black-and-white so much more,” she said. “The viewer can interpret
more, and the creator can say a lot more too. It’s a physical challenge:
You have to think intensely about what you’re trying to evoke.”
Tishman began doing images with arched tress in 1997. Southern
plantations provide inspiration; they typically are entranceways to elegant
mansions, although the artist usually declines to paint the built elements of
“Every now and then I will put a structure in---McGraw Hill just bought
one of those for its headquarters, but in that case I painted it out of focus
so it’s like a dream, like what the South used to be. So there’s
contrast of the trees that go on while the past gets dimmer and dimmer.”
Other subject sources include magnolia plantations of South Carolina.
The main figures in Tishman’s triptych Avenue of Trees are neatly trimmed
triangles, an effect she was inspired to paint by the condominium
architecture of Santa Fe, specifically that of architect Ricardo Legoretta.
“I thought about Legoretta’s work, and he loves the plain lines that
interact in nature, so I looked for imagery to interpret his work,” she
Tishman takes photographs of places she wants to paint, and she collects
images from books. She scans each idea into her computer, then crops for the
area of greatest interest. Each resulting computer print serves as a ready
reference as she begins sketching on pastel cloth.
The computer also allows Tishman to combine elements from different
scenes. In Reflecting on Redwoods, for example, she added tall trees to a
Colorado lake scene.
The artist also enjoys dancing---ballroom, Latin and swing---and said
that activity “has really loosened up my art.” She lends the image
beloved trees in at least one title: Tree Dance. This one has a Japanese
quality although Tishman actually was inspired by a photograph of eucalyptus
trees in Australia that reminded her of Mill Valley. “The Japanese effect
just a natural thing that comes out when I do my work,” she said.
Intertwined Through Time she calls her first romantic piece. “My works
are often a little dark, with a mood of melancholy and searching,” she
With this one I felt like that was happening at the bottom, but when I kept
working and listening to music (on the morning of the interview she was
listening to Paul Schwartz’s ethereal Aria 2 but she also paints to blues
Jimi Hendrix), I felt a dancing movement and energy, and I felt the two trees
interacting as though they would always be together through time.
“What’s unusual about this one is that I used a brush with acrylic
first, which was very loose and free; then I used the pastels in layers.”
From a distance Tishman’s black-and-white works look like photographs,
but close-up the details fuzz out and the elements of a scene become more
abstract. Here and there is a small area containing a great complexity of
tone and mark. She calls them “energy areas,” and admits that they
always make sense as part of the scene---if the scene was meant to be
Regard Intertwined Through Time: what at first seemed to be fog behind
the trees takes on another quality. It looks like an explosion of brightness
behind the dominant trees in the upper half, where natural fog is usually
thicker closer to the ground.
“Yes, there’s real energy there,” Tishman said. “There
is fog, but
there’s something very much alive. I’ll be listening to music and
feel it in
my body. It just seems to happen. The fog just happens too. This is a
point where I lose control and the emotionally interpretive stuff comes in.”
Does the artist desire to abandon her tree figures to wholeheartedly
paint abstract? “I’m trying to get there,” she said. “It’s
hard for me to
let go and express myself even more symbolically.”
Tishman has exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe and the
Harwood Museum in Taos as well as in Palm Springs, Anchorage, Palo Alto, and