"Improbable Topographies" in Provincetown

For the past six years I have directed the International Encaustic Conference in early June, now held in Provincetown. In addition to the three-day event, which drew 250 artists from around the world, there were a number of exhibitions at the galleries in town. I'll be posting about everything (eventually) on a Conference blog, but here I'd like to show you the exhibition I curated for the Rice Polak Gallery.


The window at the Rice Polak Gallery offers a tiny overview of Improbable Topographies. If you look through the doorway, far right, you will see the scupture by Moriarty that opens our tour, which follows

Here: A closer view into the window, which features work by Nancy Natale, Christine Kyle, Laura Moriarty and myself

For the second year in a row, the Rice Polak Gallery hosted a concurrent exhibition. Last year Marla Rice and I co-curated Surface Attraction, in which we looked at the ways artists exploited the succulent slather, woozy drip, rich patina and translucent richness of their materials. This year she suggested I curate it myself. Thank you, Marla.

The show, which ran from May 30 to June 8, was called Improbable Topographies. Building on last year's concept, I wanted to dig deeper, physically and metaphorically. I selected the work of seven artists (six artists and myself*) who approach their work not only with a richness of surface but whose work, intentionally or not, exhibits a physical relationship to terrain. Because wax is worked in a molten state, it can be poured or cast as well as painted. Its cooled surface can be carved and shaped. My intent was to show eruption, flow, upheaval and erosion in ways that are evocative of geography and geology, if not actually plausible. These terrains are unlikely, yet not entirely unfamiliar.                                                    

Laura Moriarty: Stockpile,  2012, stack of 28 cast wax "bricks" each 3.5 x 5 x 2"

Moriarty's work in its niche in the window, as well as another Moriarty on the pedestal and three carved paintings by me

Looking into the gallery, counterclockwise from bottom right: Moriarty, Mattera, Ruth Hiller, Nancy Natale.  Specific views coming

Above: Laura Moriarty, Cairn, 2012, seven stacked pieces, app 12 inches high

Below: Flattop, 2012, three pieces, approximately 10 inches high.  I stacked these sculptures per the artist's instructions. there is nothing holding them up except balance, and let me tell you that I held my breath the entire time the works were on exhibition

Laura Moriarty works three dimensionally. Inspired by elevation maps and geography books, she casts tectonic cross sections of what she imagines might exist below a depicted terrain. I imagine Moriarty a maker of mountains in a diminutive parallel world, forging a landscape with peaks that reach heavenward and valleys that plunge into the abyss, eons of geologic time buried within their mass. Do you suppose it's significant that Moriarty lives in the Hudson Valley with the Catskills in full view? I do. She recently published a monograph, Table of Contents, in which she takes a scholarly approach to her oeuvre, placing it into the context of science. You can see the connection to geology and land-based art

It was this work of Moriarty's which inspired my curatorial effort, and I selected work in its relation to hers.

Joanne Mattera: Vicolo 37, 2008, carved encaustic on panel, 18 x 18 inches

In my own work, I carve into the layered surface of each painting, creating formalist landscapes whose trenches reveal unexpected terrain. This is the most sculptural series I have done or expect to do, and while my intention is not landscape I am pleased by the geologic suggestion. The series began in 2007 and continues, most recently with the smaller work you see below.

Vicolo 64, 2012, carved encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Continuing around the gallery toward the corner, we come to two paintings by Ruth Hiller, with the Moriarty sculpture in the foreground

Ruth Hiller manipulates scale, making the microscopic tangible.
Eerie-seductive orbs seem poised to burst from a custardy-smooth surface. I'll be honest: It took me a while to embrace this work, as the visual associations--to germs, to alien life forms--was strong. "I am continually interested in exploring the juxtaposition between what lies beneath, or out in space, and our perception of beauty and exquisiteness," the Boulder-based Hiller says of her work. Formally and technically the work eventually seduced me.
Ruth Hiller, above: (Symbol), 2011, encaustic 2 x 12 inches

Below: Capricorn, 2012, encaustic on panel, 24 x 12 inches
As we continue around the gallery, we pass the work by Hiller and Moriarty and come to  assemblages by Nancy Natale and two small sculptures by Christine Kyle. Specific views follow

Nancy Natale, above: Promised Land, 2010, mixed media with encaustic, 27 x 42 by 2 inches

Below: Thinking L.D., mixed media with encaustic, 48 x 60 x 2 inches

Nancy Natale constructs geometric assemblages reflective of urban geography—book parts, tar paper, rubber, and strips of metal limned in wax, all held together with  the staccato rhythm of metal tacks. Perhaps because of its coloration or its title, Promised Land, is evocatiove of a more pastoral landscape. Natale describes these works as bricolage, or what she describes as "collage with muscle."

Christine Kyle: Cover Girl and Baroque, both 2008, encaustic on fired clay

Christine Kyle builds up channeled surfaces in wax on fired-clay forms. The mounds call to mind hillocks or barrows; the elongated forms suggest creatures that might have emerged from the earth itself. They evoke in me a sense of the ancient. Without a reference to scale, these sculptures appear monumental yet when you see them in situ, they are actually quite small.

Corner view, with Kyle's Buttons, 2009, encaustic on fired clay, below

As we continue to move around the gallery, Kyle's elongated sculpture marks the spot between paintings by Willie Little

Willie Little evokes a topography with rust, oil and wax. While Little's spare compositions  are the least sculpturally topographical in the show, his surfaces are texturally rich. Oxidation and patination create a sensual crust of ironn and copper suggestive of mining and landscape.

Willie Little: Red Blue Rust Totem, 24 x 24 inches

Continuing around the gallery we return to face the entry. Larry Calkins' paintings are to the right of the doorway, just as Laura Moriarty's Stockpile is to the left

In pastoral fantasy mode, Larry Calkins creates landscapes whose surfaces have a palpable presence. Pears as large as watermelons bow the branches of a slender tree; a robed figure with two heads--one a crow, the other with a man's face and huge rabbit ears-- navigate an arboreal terrain. Considering the latter, I'd describe figure and ground as equal parts Tim Burton and Renaissance Siena.

Larry Calkins, above: Hometown, encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Below: A Perfect Union, encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches


*About the curation:
This was very much an artist-curated show (unlike Textility, for instance, which required  a more stringent curatorial perspective and no curator inclusion). Crosscurrents abounded here: We were brought together by a common event, our work united by a common medium and a physically related concept. Moreover, I share gallery and exhibition relationships with these artists. I tell you this not so much in the vein of "full disclosure"--though I always try to be transparent on this blog (even if my tagline reads "journalistically suspect)--but as a peek into how this exhibition came about.

Moriarty and I have curated together and are currently showing together in Super Saturated, an exhibition curated by Kenise Barnes, which I wrote about here last week. Hiller and I are represented by the Conrad Wilde Gallery in Tucson and showed together in the gallery's room at Aqua Art in Miami this past December. Natale and I are represented by the Arden Gallery in Boston, and I have written about her work on this blog. Last year at the Encaustic Conference Kyle received my Director's Award, and I've followed her work enthusiastically since then. I own work by each of these artists.

Both Calkins and Little are represented by the Rice Polak Gallery. I have visited the gallery regularly for years and know Marla Rice from those visits. Seeing the work of Calkins and Little, as well as several others on her roster, emboldened me to approach her last year about working together. This was our second effort together. 


Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for your presentation of this great show, Joanne. Your curatorial theme came as a surprise to me about my own work, but I understood the viewpoint as I thought about it. Surprising revelations about one's own work seems to me the mark of an imaginative and sensitive curator - as you have proven yourself to be on many occasions. The opportunity to show with this inspiring group of artists was most welcome and I enjoyed noting the correspondences between the works in the thoughtful and creative installation.

virginia bryant said...

more shows curated by artists! great show!

annell said...

So beautiful!!

Jane Davies said...

Saw the show and loved it!!! Lots of really interesting gorgeous work, with very individual modes of expression. Indeed, more shows curated by artists!

Laura said...

Thanks for your kind words about my work Joanne, and for putting together this great show. Thoughtful curation breaths life into an artists' work.