Next week I will be installing a small show I have curated for the Eleventh International Encaustic Conference. Each year they have a Curatorial Program in which artists are encouraged to submit proposals for exhibitions for Provincetown and Truro during the Conference. I had an idea for a show with work in monochrome, and I was delighted to have been selected for an exhibition.
For me, as for many others, color is seductive. I revel in the glow of saturated primaries, delight in the bounce of complementary colors side by side, and glide on the softness of muted pastels. Spring greens and yellows have a special place on my palette, and work best when paired with rich umbers and earth tones.
There is a special category, though, for the focused energy to be found by working with monochrome—one color reduced to values. You might think of it as an absence of color. It’s such an easy click to remove the color from an image in Photoshop. But I think of it as compressed color, color so dense that it goes to black, so light that white prevails.
When we look at monochrome, then, we can feast our eyes on value. It’s the infinite range of coal blacks through myriad grays to white infinity. What happens? The elegance of rhythms, the strength of contours, the massiveness of blocks of value appear with an amazing force.
Encaustic adds much to these endeavors. Translucent layers enhance depth and tone. Wax makes the pigments flow and coalesce around pools of rich darks. Wax gives strength to papers that hold their own translucency.
These four artists, whom I have invited to join me in presenting pieces in monochrome, understand brilliantly the power of black and white, and the strength a composition derives from selecting only value, and thus highlighting, form, shape, edge, and line.
Paula Roland masters the fluid edge in her encaustic monotypes. The lines have a vibrancy that cannot be achieved in any other fashion and reflect the meditative state needed to produce a responsive line.
“The elimination of color helps to focus the mind and body to act as one, as in Zen brush painting with ink. The printed mark is a record of a moment arrested in time.”
Swish I, 2016, encaustic monotype (archival mount on Dibond), 20 x 16 inches
Toby Sisson travels the gamut from black to white and all the permutations of grays in between. Sisson marries text, handwriting, history, and personal experience with personal mark-making in these complex works.
“Monochrome demands clarity and focus. For both the artist and viewer, eliminating color allows attention to be directed with less distraction. It’s also symbolic of the racial themes I explore in my work. I am biracial, literally black and white. As a result, I am always conscious of my identity and its power to shape my movement through the world.”
Automatic Writing 1, 2017, encaustic monotype, 24 x 18 inches
Pat Spainhour uses monochrome to remove emotion so as to focus on structure and design, seeking a balance of light and dark. She is intrigued by “the implied areas, often blank, which the human eye fills in to complete the image”.
“Working in black and white is a challenge that I welcome. Use of color is often associated with emotion, but use of solely black and white requires thoughtful design. As a teacher, I stress design, and in my own work, design is foremost.”
Flutter, 2016, encaustic on paper, 20 x 12 inches
Christine Aaron has a different approach. She achieves her values through absence. The lights come from holes burnt through paper, her dark line is derived from carbonized edges. Even on black Kozo paper the darkest dark comes from fire and the white from light.
“Absence and presence; shadow and light. Shadows appear as projections of physical existence; evidence of presence. They also emerge and dance, are cast as the ephemeral marks of what is absent, no longer material, the mark making of physical loss.”
Imprint, 2017, burnt Kozo paper, beeswax, damar resin, 11 x 8.5 inches
I am very pleased to present these works by these accomplished artists. I hope you will enjoy the show, and it will perhaps add to your appreciation of monochrome and the space between shadow and light.
Many thanks to the artists, to the staff at Castle Hill Center for the Arts in Truro, to Cherie Mittenthal, Artistic Executive Director at Castle Hill, and to Joanne Mattera, Conference Founder.
A print catalog, as well as a PDF version, is available, click here to order.
Claffey, The Space between Shadow and Light #2, 2017, encaustic, graphite, oil on paper on panel, 24 x 24 inches
The Space Between Shadow and Light
Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill