Harriet Wiseman is a Philadelphia wife, mother of two, and grandmother who began painting in 1993 at the suggestion of a therapist. As a way to access her memories and emotions, drawing and painting opened the floodgates to her expression; she has been working prolifically ever since.
Wiseman paints on antique book covers, which she collects, as well as wood, and less often canvas or paper. Her subjects emerge out of the abstract patterning of the book covers, her role is to flesh out what she sees. Wiseman also began to see images in her paint palettes.
Most of the paintings on wood were originally Wiseman’s palettes, some as large as table tops, that she has worked into refined, colorful portraits.
Wisman’s painting is sometimes raw and direct, her colors brooding, and shadowed. Sometimes more intentional design elements and bold, complicated color relationships are prominent, reflecting her former career as a jewelry designer. Wiseman maintains an automatic method of working where she places her focus on visual pattern, whether the design of a book cover or the arrangement of blotches of color on her paint palette. Then Wiseman’s work begins to reveal itself to her. Concentration on materials is echoed in Wiseman’s subject matter, where she draws from personal history as well as a larger history of women. She focuses on material culture such as clothing and jewelry to note the time and place of her subjects, and hint at the importance of these personal stylistic choices in women’s lives as modes of expression.
Wiseman’s subjects stare out at the viewer with deep eyes telling of complex internal lives beneath the surface. This suggestion of deeply personal worlds in the minds of her subjects is a reflection of Wiseman’s need to communicate her own private world, and in this sense her paintings are all self-portraits. But Wiseman also reaches beyond herself, connecting her story to a universal one.
A respect and reverence for the past is evident in her work, it appeals to a broad audience. Harriet Wiseman, a well educated, well traveled woman, does not fit any stereotype about self-taught artists. Wiseman’s artwork reminds us that creative impulse is a human need that can no more easily be categorized or defined than contained; she is a true artist, telling a story she is compelled to tell.