When the full moon comes around one critic or another slips on the false fangs and howls her foolhardy pronouncements to those cold and glittering orbs overhead: “Literature is dead!” “Photography is dead!” “Painting is dead!” The proclamations thud in the ear like the angry tablets of Sinai stone which were flung from a fire-bearded Moses when he saw those pesky Israelites having too much darn fun (and just what were they doing, dancing around those false idols?  Well, essentially, they were early worshipers of art). Why this urgent push towards death? Why not embrace life instead? If I were a cynic, I’d very well remark that all human life is an accident. And if I were more predisposed toward the supernatural, perhaps I’d believe that art is sometimes just an accident waiting to happen, an unforeseen bend in the road, a quirk of fate. Barnett Newman speaks of his famous “zips” in a mystical fashion, freely acknowledging their accidental nature, calling them streaks of light: quite close to what the French call coup de foudre, a bolt of love, a bolt of light, the unexpected flash that falls from the sky.

Let’s examine this from another angle: imagine how something as simple as the sharp abruption of one dish clapping against another could strike the hearing from the ear permanently. A bolt out of the blue snatches your ability to listen to a song. It’s the old insight: creation and destruction spring from the same source.

In her collage-work above all, the young artist Claudia Shaldervan relies on instinct as a guiding principle. This is a technique that can only be acquired through long practice, ownership of skill, and hard-won experience. Willem de Kooning laboriously ground pigment as an apprentice in an artist’s guild in Rotterdam long before he danced up before an easel, brush lush with paint, and he did not have his first solo show until he was forty-four years old. De Kooning, like many Abstract Expressionists of his generation, allowed his instincts to shape his work–and what work! One finds ecstasy in his gestural strokes, far beyond elementary principles, and always sunk in the depths of risky abstraction (which miraculously succeed).

I see this same confidence in the collage piece The Lottery Ticket by Claudia Shaldervan: the twill-woven, night-blue seas are scratched by an opaqueness beneath the banana moon—but the Caribbean is not necessarily this cruise-ship’s destiny. It appears more likely, judging by the woman who seems to have sprung out of an Adrian Piper photograph as she leans from her window seat and searches wistfully seaward, that one will sink under the iron density of the technological age. Hands pull apart the scrim of life, showing that instead of the freedom of the open waters one might very well encounter the harsh mysteries awaiting in the outer dark. A dollar and a dream: this is the lit fuse that could lead to the American nightmare. Be careful what you wish for, the artist seems to be saying, because it may not be worth having.

Cielo, as troubling as it is beautiful, gives us a long tall sleek scythe of a woman in chic beachwear, toting along her spine a panoply of angel fluff. Before her bowed figure, the words “cielo” climb the air like thought bubbles that had escaped its casing. What is the woman perusing with such a sorrowful mien? Perhaps she is examining results that she did not quite expect. Her closed and pensive face belies her desire for surf and sun: the prophylactic instructions, given step by step, were not heeded. A mistake may be imminent. But there is a greening of hope: freeze that frame, because the sunshine is never truly distant.

In The Accord II, there is an existential dilemma at work. Barcodes like sugar loaves braided with static float amongst a pair of the disembodied with their blizzard faces. Both figures are trapped in a black liquid abyss, and their inability to escape from this doomy post-technological world is at issue. They are locked within pure abstraction, forced to exist eternally among the data-spew, the false logic of numbers, a hailfall of stock tickers and chyron numerics that everywhere haunt our own living world.

In considering Shaldervan’s collages, the insight one might chance upon is inspired by the chance placement of imagery as the artist works out what Beethoven might have referred to as “the difficult resolution;” and it is as if the writer’s mind, like a bat in echo, collides along the cave-walls of the artist’s own skull, led on by the diapason of her craft.

This is not to say that Shaldervan labors solely in the world of chance. The sure-handed strokes that summon to swimming life the lovely dowager in her crimped velvet coat and frill scarf in the compartment of a seaside train lulls with its magnetic force. This Hopperesque figure, who challenges us with a direct and smoky stare, hemmed in by right angles, geometrically framed, excites narrative possibilities. Who is this woman? Is she a former grisette turned eminent matron? This is one of the pulls of Hopper’s work: how he tempts you into storytelling. But this could be a false trap. For in Hopper’s paintings doorways lead into an impenetrable and massed wilderness, and exits drop directly into an impossible sea. But here we have a figure in the compartment of a train whose lineaments bespeak a quiet dignity, though behind her hovers her unquiet double, back turned and with hung head. Is the woman leaving behind an empty existence and standing out to sea with free sails, or is her past simply abandoning her as memory fades?

Look at the dog ladies, one dressed in chapel elegance, and the other in a casual lemon shirt, both sporting suburban red hair and low heels. You could smell the damp furniture in the room, the poured tea, catalogue perfume. These ladies want us to believe that they are gemütlich types, though the figure to the left expresses dolorousness in her indolence. They hold onto their dogs with desperation, as if these pets were inseparable from their identities; they are eager to show that they are masters of these smaller animals. What should we make of the fringed lamp that looms over the figures and casts no light, but instead casts stains of shadow over lemon-colored shoulders, very much like drying blood? The frame on the striped wall is askew, and the black-and-white television is dark. Only one of the smaller dogs looks at the viewer, while the others veer away, as if they know that something is wrong. These ladies look as frazzled as sea-tossings on their landed Freudian couch (Lucian, not grandpa Sigmund).

Our eyes cannot tear away so easily from this extraordinary work, nor the matchless painting of the dreaming girl who is the spitting image of Picasso’s Portrait of Olga (1923), except here she is curled in sleep. Directly overhead an old-fashioned lamp sheds light that creates soft shadings on the walls, and hanging further above, what looks to be a Cubist image, perhaps one created by the master himself. Could we detect a paint box on the chair? Are those books in appetizing colors tomes on art? Is she dreaming the room or is the room dreaming her?

It is impossible to draw things mild when one stands before work served up so piping hot. Shaldervan’s art demands laser focus; and her talent forces all other considerations to drain away. Before we are ground to dust beneath the wheels of time, we should each be fortunate enough to encounter such superlative works from this twenty-year old artist. They say that first fruits taste the sweetest: give Shaldervan’s work a try and see for yourself.

Claudia Shaldervan’s poem, “Ashes and Reflections,” won third prize in SVA’s Sixth Annual Writing Contest. Her poems “Song of the Night Spirit” and “Night Fiends” were published in the Spring 2017 issue of The Match Factory. Claudia is a Russian-American painter, photographer, and multi-media artist originally from Cliffside Park, New Jersey. She began filling sketchbooks with free-association collages when a high-school exchange student in Germany. She has been refining techniques to combine fine art with photographic practice. She currently studies Photography at the School of Visual Arts.

Edwin Rivera is a Writing Instructor at SVA and Editor of The Match Factory. He is the author of a full-length play, IN THE PALACE OF THE PLANET KING, which has been selected as part of the 2019 Downtown Urban Arts Festival in New York City.