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"Jerald Silva has understated his career like a card player with a solid hand."

- William Wilson, Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1977

Los Angeles Times

"Jerald Silva is a painters’ painter who relates what he knows best– his studio and materials. We see cropped views (from an aerial perspective) of patterned drapery, paint cans, color swatches, trade magazines and unfinished watercolors. Silva paints the nuts and bolts of an artist’s surroundings in soft detail and impressionistic color. Large watercolors shimmer with delicate markings from a full palette. Myriad techniques, sensitively applied, blend easily…Silva affects a successful marriage of figuration and abstraction, occasionally reminding us of Pierre Bonnard. Objects are recognizable without becoming tediously specific. Masterful arrangements of disparate parts and patterns maintain strong structure under luscious surfaces. What looks like pleasant disarray is carefully ordered painting."

 - Suzanne Muchnic, February 16, 1979

Sacramento Insiders

"In art as in life, first impressions are the most important. But that dictum is even more true when applied to the work of Jerald Silva. The onlooker is drawn immediately to Silva’s work by the extraordinary luminosity of the artist’s watercolors. Their intensity and freshness affect the eye the way the effervescence of champagne affects taste. But the second impressions — as they must — begin to obtrude. One of the strongest is wonder: How does he do it?"

Richard Simon,

Sacramento Union,

February 28, 1981

"The paintings are uniformly compelling because Silva is the most painterly of painters. The gleaming surfaces he achieves with watercolors reveal an extraordinary technique. But technique is only the beginning of his virtues. It is sufficient that they induce a response–a sense of wonder."

Richard Simon,

Sacramento Union,

February 28, 1981

"You may decide, for instance, that his style lies along expressionist lines, since he freely distorts, blurs, exaggerates or otherwise alters the look of some of his subjects in order to transmit feeling about them, yet for all their fluidity of form and freedom of color, some of his still lifes have a classic calm and sense of order.

Again, you may be struck by the way some of these same still lifes seem to vibrate, like the impressionists’ paintings, and yet the light in these pictures is not the light of the impressionists, most of the time, it is a haze, and it is not. In a word, Silva is his own man."

William C. Glacken, Sacramento Bee,

November 1, 1966

"In his continuing efforts to challenge the politeness of watercolor as a medium, Silva has made his recent paintings large and complex. Marrying modernist content and technique with traditional watercolor luminosity results in work that defies easy categorization. They consistently show Silva’s skill in combining realism and abstraction to use watercolor in unusual ways, displaying disquietude that is at odds with their brilliant decorative coloration."

Alfred Jan,


October 6, 1984

"They are stunning works that take watercolor to places beyond our expectations of the medium. Working more like an oil painter, Silva builds up layers of transparent color into deep, resonant glazes. Silva is one of the most masterful figurative artists around. Yet he is humbled by the subject of the figure. “I find it awesomely challenging,” he says. “I think probably it’s one of those things where I’m going to have to keep doing it until I get it right.”

Victoria Dalkey,

Sacramento Bee,

October 9, 1994

"Jerald Silva paints in a lyrical poetic style that is in direct contrast to his commonplace subject matter. It is the sort of technique that one usually associates with conservative motifs: still lifes, landscapes and portraits. Actually, Silva does embrace these tried -and-true subjects, but it is his stretching of style and injection of irony that gives his work added appeal."

 Ellen Schlesinger,

Sacramento Bee,


Peter Frank, L.A. Weekly

Known as a realist, Jerald Silva has spent much of his career redefining “realism.” Silva’s realism may be painstaking in its rendition of objects observed in the world around him, but it is anything but naturalistic. It rearranges, modifies, even falsifies the nature of observed things and their relationships to one another, all according to the subjective responses of the artist. It could even be said that Silva indulges his own point of view at the expense of veracity. In that respect he capitalizes on one of the permissions given uniquely by painting; to challenge perception by giving new order to the perceived. Silva does not defy veracity; he defies mere veracity.

Confounding our expectations by reordering so many familiar things, and interspersing them with some things that at first seem unfamiliar, Silva challenges our comprehension further by employing a style as exacting and virtuosic as any used by contemporary representational painters. His pictures, for all their intricacies, are still inflected with a certain comforting homeliness. Few if any of their elements, after all, are unfamiliar to us, or are even distorted in any way that robs them of their reassuring commonness. Silva is as much a still life painter, of a sort, as he is a figure painter (again, of a sort). He takes few liberties with the way things and people appear. The liberties Silva takes are with the psychological and perceptual contexts in which such things and people are cast.

Despite the fact that stories seem to underscore so many of Silva’s pictures, the pictures exist not so much narratively as anecdotally. If Silva’s visual world is circumscribed (“my studio is my subject,” the painter has averred), each of his pictures proposes not a complete, closed story but a circumstance at which the artist/viewer and the subject/protagonists have happened to arrive. Silva may intervene in the order of things; but his manipulation of elements has an instability and provisionality to it. Such fragile coherence suggests not so much a narrative as it does the temporary sense of order and omnipotence associated with lucid dreaming (that is, dreaming in which the dreamer knows s/he is dreaming and attempts to take some control). Such incidentally evinces the familiarity with theatrical arts and theater people that Silva has maintained throughout his adult life; it also bespeaks the painter’s relatively improvisatory approach to composing his pictures, working as he does less by setting up and rendering tableaux than by compiling and interfacing elements that were initially discrete in time and space.

The incidental fleeting quality of Silva’s pictures is reified by his almost exclusive use of watercolor, with its restrained, even tenuous palette and its never-entirely-solid lines. As luminous as his tonalities are, Silva’s hues are almost invariably tonal. The inclusion of “local color” such as comic strips, children’s paintings or other pictures-within-pictures only proves the rule with exceptions. For all his engagement with the watercolor medium, however, Silva thinks in terms defined as much by the expansive emphatic–indeed theatrical– and highly self-conscious tradition of painting as by the intimate, offhand watercolor tradition.

…Silva relies on interior space as the arena of his pictorial expression. Interior space, bounded and artificially lit, is where physical and psychological sensation most readily merge into one another, setting the stage for a theater of the self. It is a theater of deflected sensuality, recaptured memory, a theater of ghosts and their passions, and of the artist thrown back upon himself, his obsessions and his desires, until all dissolve into the shadows.

When Silva says that his paintings are “terribly narcissistic– [they are] always about me,” we realize that, to upend the parlance of current critical theory, they privilege not the male gaze but the “me gaze.” Whether looking at something, imagining it, or approximating its reconstruction from his imagination in real time-space, Silva’s real subject is his own mind. What he privileges is his own particular perception. It is indeed a male perception, and its obscure objects of desire are often nude women of certain voluptuousness. The subjects’ poses are not lascivious, however, but matter-of-fact, or tender, or humorous, even satirical, mocking the very tradition(s) of male gazing that frame our initial reception of them. Furthermore, Silva devotes as much attention to his subjects’ faces as he does their bodies. Each of his sitters, nude or not, female or not, is perceived at once as an individual, nameable and identifiable, and a figure interacting with a space and its inanimate objects.

In recounting how particular pictures were composed and compiled, Silva remembers and reminisces about still life items as vividly as his figural subjects. He considers them almost as animate as the people who model with them. This, of course, is not to say that those people are virtually inanimate, but rather that Silva seeks to imbue his still life elements with much of the same provocative presence, because to his eyes those elements actually have that presence. By contrast, more than a few contemporary realist painters are wont to rob their figures of vivacity, reducing them to fleshy still lifes.

Silva’s pictures are much more than still lifes, and not just because their figures are credible. They are charged with psychological tension, the tension between voyeuristic impulse and sentimental attachment, between “objective” distance and the need to touch, even to embrace, no matter what the object of the artist’s gaze. In his layering of images and meanings, Silva is also working on many levels of possession and being possessed. And he is not, and cannot be, coy about this wrenching but enduring emotional state of deflected desire. Rather, in order to create intricate, resonant paintings Silva has almost to confess to his obsessions and his fears. His paintings are as affecting as they are because their ultimate subject is the humanness of the man who made them– and, by example, humanness in general. Silva does not insist on the pre-eminence of his point of view or the tragedy of his every manhood. Rather, he proposes that his point of view, for all the strangeness of the modifications it visits on reality, is typical.The world Jerald Silva paints is as constricted as it is in order to reflect back to him, and us, the very act of apprehending it. We see thereby that it is shaped by the impulses and projections of a control freak, a voyeur, a narcissist, a mild paranoiac– that is to say, it is shaped by neuroses common to us all. Its cozy familiarity and dreamy softness, even sweetness, implies that this slightly fantasized reality is, but for the grace of the god of painting, not simply Silva’s projection, but ours.

Peter Frank: editor, Visions Art Quarterly, art critic, L. A. Weekly. 

Intimate and Incorrect, Paintings in Watercolor by Jerald Silva

Solomon Dubnick Press, 1995

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