Three artists exhibit at both the physical and virtual gallery at the West Tisbury library this month in “The Abstract Collective.” While each one’s art is unique, they all eschew recognizable subject matter.
Artist Robert Hauck’s paintings have a tactile quality that beckons us to look closely at his surfaces. He creates fascinating textures through “scratched-up gesso or some other kind of medium. I’m looking for texture because that’s part of what’s being revealed. In some cases, I was taking an old painting and covering it so that the pentimento [a visible trace of earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas] helped shape my impression of what the painting was. I came with the feeling that the painting I was doing was already there on the blank canvas. My job was to unveil it.”
Hauck says that all painting is abstract in that it depicts aspects of the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface. “I use shape, color, line, and texture, to capture a time, place, experience, or emotion,” he says.
Hauck says that his art is almost geological: “If you put a group of them together, it would be how you felt over a period of time. If you make an undercoat of something, or there is one already there, and then you cover it with another layer, and then you cover that with another layer, you are creating layers of time.”
This process of layering and revealing directly engages us in the artwork, inviting us to look and feel and experience them.
The immediacy in Wendy Weldon’s work is largely through her alluring color, which often vibrates with a vitality all its own. She writes on her website, “Color reflects energy. I mix a color that matches my emotion. Then I mix another and when they are near each other, they change, my feelings change, and something new is created. This new color takes me to a place I have never been before. It has its mystery and I want to stay there, in the unknown.”
Like Hauck, most of her works were painted over existing pieces, thus making them, as Weldon shares, “reincarnations with the energy of the old painting still there.”
In “Stillness,” she sanded the surface so that the old painting could come through in places. It evokes an almost temple-like atmosphere, with a spiritual association. Having spent time visiting temples in Bali, the artist says, “That sense of stillness when you walk up those stone stairs that millions of people seem to have walked on because the stone is actually worn down where people have walked on them. There is this sense of old age, history, and then you come into this temple that is just so peaceful and still.”
In “Stepping Lightly,” Weldon’s canvas is much more active, full of brushstrokes and areas that recede and move forward. In “Language,” Weldon plays with opaque versus transparency. She masterfully uses gold leaf to great effect. “The gold leaf has this great luminosity that comes from behind all the other colors,” she says. “Even when the color is opaque, like the turquoise-green.”
Weldon is forever playing with her composition. “Shapes change, colors are constantly being tweaked, lines are drawn and then taken away, the energy builds, until the painting may say, I am complete! Or it may say, stop working, take a break and then come back to me later, or a week from now, when you can see what is not working in the painting. Each painting has its own unique story.”
Like Hauck and Weldon, Mary-Louise Rouff’s approach is instinctual, intuitive. While her formal schooling was in traditional art — creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on two-dimensional surfaces — her work too is completely abstract. She says, “I can be so instinctive today because I had this traditional training. It’s like a cook; you don’t need each measurement in a cookbook, but go ahead with what you feel it ought to be and it comes out well.”
Like her compatriots, Rouff is keenly aware of how colors react to each other, the heat they give off when they meet, how one can make another recede. She shares on her website, “When I work, it’s usually the shapes and colors from the previous painting that are still in my brain. What usually happens, changes completely. I often mix paints and put it on. I look at that and decide, What does that need now?”
Rouff adds, “When I paint, I may start with some intuitive washes and marks until my mind is warmed up. Sometimes I begin with ideas prompted by chance events — a thread of pattern in the canvas, a brushstroke in the gesso, or the outline of a color that feels familiar. Then I respond to the images as they develop. My criterion for authenticity is how engaged I feel in this crucial game. The discipline is to remain intensely aware of the process at all times. In short, my paintings are about construction from bits of visual memory. My work is still about the landscape of a personal kind.”
“The Abstract Collective” exhibition calls upon us to not just see but to experience the artists’ work on a visceral level, to feel their unique contribution to a show with an impressive impact.
“The Abstract Collective” exhibition is on view at the West Tisbury library through October and permanently online at the library’s virtual gallery space at wtlibraryvirtualgallery.org.