Talking About Geoform

Today I’m finally talking about Geoform, an online curatorial project coedited by Julie Karabenick, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Rick Barnhart, of Tenants Harbor, Maine—geometric abstractionists both—that shows the variety of geometric expression in contemporary abstract art. In my previous post, I talked about the ways several artists are connected, and I gave you links to Julie’s and Rick’s individual sites—as I’m doing here—so perhaps their work will already be familiar to you. (I am unable to download images of Rick's work from his website, so I urge you to visit the site directly: )

Julie Karabenick: Composition 59, acrylic on canvas, 30" x 30", 2005

Geoform was launched in the spring of 2005, about 15 months ago, with a beautifully designed site and a handful of participating artists. Today 76 artists from 15 countries are on the site. The work is satisfyingly diverse in size, format, medium, approach and expression, and the site appears to grow weekly. "Rick and I spent months and months reviewing and discussing artists in order to develop our criteria for inclusion—which is to say, sufficiently abstract and sufficiently geometric," says Julie. "The boundaries are subject to some redefinition and refinement as we continue on."

I was one of the first artists on the Geoform site and the subject of an early interview with Julie, so I’ve had a chance to see Geoform grow and flourish. Given that Julie also paints and curates (scroll halfway down the page of this link to see her curatorial efforts), Geoform, with its roster of artists and a growing number of artists interviews, is impressively robust. Julie and I correspond regularly by e-mail and have become good friends, so I’m sharing some of the conversation we had recently.

"From ‘geometric’ marks made on rock faces and cave walls and on human faces and bodies, extending far back into prehistory, to geometric patterns found in textiles and adorning pottery and masks and other objects in world cultures, this type of form has attracted me," says Julie. "During the early 90s, geometric shapes began appearing in my prints amongst the more representational elements." The figurative elements began to fall away, she says, and soon she found herself working abstractly. "I’m not sure I could have given a very good account of why this was happening, but I certainly was intrigued."

Julie Karabenick: Composition 64, acrylic on canvas, 30" x 30", 2006

Julie began looking more seriously at geometric form and structure in fine art. She acknowledges the Internet as a deep well of images. "On-line wandering and searching has become my primary means of discovering artists working in geometric abstraction," she says. (That’s how she found me. She called in late winter 2005 and we talked for an hour, growing the roots of a friendship that would grow surprisingly deep given the physical distance between us.) A developmental psychologist--PhD, University of Michigan, 1981--as well as a painter, Julie approached this change in her own painting with a readings in philosophy, anthropology, psychology, linguistics, neurophysiology, and various approaches to spirituality.

"As my files of research began to fill drawers, I decided I wanted to find some way of sharing this admittedly unsystematic and idiosyncratic ‘research,’" says Julie. Finding a creative partner in Rick Barnhart was the impetus she needed, and together they launched the Geoform site.

Julie Gross, an artist on Geoform, is the subject of a recent interview. This is one of her paintings: Blue Inversion, oil on linen, 32" x 32", 2004

Gail Gregg, another artist on the site, is also the subject of an interview. Here, Kincaid, encaustic on panel, 36" x 36", 2003

Geometric abstraction is no longer an art world flavor of the month. From Op Art and Hard-edge Abstraction in the Sixties, to a resurgence of Neo Geo in the Eighties, geometric abstraction in all its variations has evolved into a menu staple. Since art now is so much about the constantly new and titillating, a site like Geoform keeps geometric abstraction visibly fresh and tasty. "We hope the project helps raise the visibility of this type of art, perhaps encouraging curators to develop exhibitions to showcase it regionally or thematically," says Julie. Continuing with the food metaphor, she adds, "I say ‘thematically’ because there are many ‘flavors’ to sample—many motivations, sources of inspiration, artistic temperaments, stylistic outcomes involved. We are also happy if Geoform contributes to networking, communication, and/or collaboration among artistic kindred spirits."

Burton Kramer: Resonant 2, acrylic on canvas, 30" x 60", 2001


I Am Not An "Encaustic Artist"

Encaustic has reached critical mass. Many artists are working in the medium and showing their work. There are encaustic shows, encaustic groups, encaustic forums. These are all good things. But where does the medium end and the ghetto begin?

When I wrote my book in 2000 and had it published in 2001, I thought that within five years—which would be right about now—encaustic would cease being a novelty and find its way into the mainstream of artistic expression. That hasn't happened yet, but it will.

But here's what concerns me: Some artists who work in the medium have been defining themselves by the medium. Not, "I am a figurative painter," or "I work in geometric abstraction," or even, "I’m an abstract painter who works primarily in wax." No. Typically I hear, "I paint in encaustic." I love encaustic. But what kind of art do you make?

Is Jasper Johns an "encaustic artist?" Or is he an artist—a painter and printmaker? Does he make "encaustic art?" Or does he make paintings, some of which are executed in the medium of encaustic?

Is a painter who works in oil an "oil artist?" Is a painter who works in acrylic a "polymer artist?" (Imagine calling Agnes Martin a "graphite and acrylic artist," or Richard Serra a "steel artist.")

Maybe I’m being too touchy about this because I just got listed on an artist’s website as an "encaustic blogger." I love the way the web lets us link to one another, and I’m pleased that this artist thought enough of my blog to cite it. But….I type my blog on a computer with word-processing software. My comments appear on a cyber screen. There is no wax involved in the process. And I don’t always write about encaustic.

Let me be clear: I love encaustic. I love encaustic. I’ve been working with it for 16 years. I participate in, and go to see, "encaustic shows"—they’re a great way to see the wonderful variety of artistic expression in pigmented wax. (Though I make a point of participating in thematic shows as well.) And I admire and respect the work of many, many, many artists who work in encaustic. I just think we need to think hard about how we define ourselves and our work.

Actually, let me be clearer. You should feel free to call yourself whatever you want. But I am not an "encaustic artist." I’m a painter. Who works with wax.


On the Road

The Silk Road of history was that fabled 5,000-mile trade route between China and the Mediterranean.

My own "Silk Road" is a new series of small and midsize paintings in which I'm focused on color and the enduring power of the grid. Up close, each apparently monochrome painting is a quiet grid, built up by differently hued layers of intentionally grainy color applied at successive right angles. I've limned each panel to heighten the intensity of its color field. The title of this series was suggested by the iridescence and texture of woven cloth; the materiality comes courtesy of my medium: encaustic (pigmented wax). The paintings are installed for exhibition in variable-size grids or in a zip along the wall, for the repetition of shape, changed by color and surface, reinforces the elements of each individual work and reflects my involvement with grid-based abstraction.

"Silk Road 43," 12 x 12", 2006

Installation wall in my studio, each work 12 x 12"

If you're in New York between now and July 21, please visit the Elizabeth Harris Gallery where five of my "Silk Road" paintings are included in Neoplastic Redux, organized by Miles Manning. Other artists in the show include Gene Davis, Pat Lipsky and Helen Miranda Wilson.

Here’s an installation shot. Thornton Willis is in the foreground; I'm on the wall in the rear. Photo courtesy of the Elizabeth Harris Gallery.

If you're cyber traveling, spin on over to the Marcia Wood Gallery in Atlanta. Here's an installation view of my recent show there. You can see more at the website if you click onto the "Exhibitions" page, then scroll down to "Past Exhibitions" and "2006".

Pure Color, my solo exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery, April 20-May 27, 2006. From left: "Silk Road" grid, each work 12 x 12"; "Stack," 48 x 67"; "Bask," 48 x 50"; all encaustic on panel

I'll be blogging from the Silk Road for a while, so check back soon. I should be posting a couple of times a week. If you want to know more about me or my work:


In The Title Box

Diamond Life 17, 2012, encaustic on panel, 22.5 x 22.5 inches

This work may be available at the DM Contemporary, New York

Lush Geometry at DM Contemporary, April 21-June 1, 2012. From Left: Louise P. Sloane, Joanne Mattera. Sculpture, foreground: Richard Bottwin. Photo: Richard Bottwin


Posted: 11.13.11
Click image to enlarge


"The Angry Hillbilly Award"

Posted 3.16.10

Ico Gallery, a vanity gallery in New York City, posted the following rant in March 2010. The reason? I snubbed their invitation to pay to show, and I ignored their request to post a link to their gallery on my blog. After their post appeared on the gallery website I posted the link on FB and on my own blog, they took it down. It may still pop up here, but just in case, I've cut and pasted the text below:

A virtual installation: Featuring: The rationality of the irrational: Including resume and bios, bias advice, myopic facts, and journalistically suspect reporting. - The monumental Atelier, proving that anyone can be an idiot, and be commended; what better describes the art world today. And all out of the ‘mouths of babes’
This masterpiece of contemporary analytics is a provocative example of the postmodern pointillism on a Boolean operating system. It is a stimulating and not so subtle Orwellian avatar. In this rebellions new Internet installation, Joanne becomes the human mirror of the art denizens of the art world, a world where the empress is brazenly naked, and fashionably strikes a pensive pose as she lectures solemnly at the virtual landfill.
There can be no response or iterations to the statements made since the statements by their own decree are non statements, and yet there is a flock of follows for non statements and Joanne in her nakedness feels no shame in her brave confessional.
‘I think therefore I am!’ has been replaced by ‘I am an idiot and therefore I know’
Joanne is correct and by the proclamation in big black bold at the top of her Blog page, in the aestivating verdant banner, she states things plainly Рthat there is no reason what so ever to hold her to logic or any lucid reasoning; she emphatically tells us so in bold and caps which means she means it! Facts are all so pass̩ for Joanne, who speaks the truth, while proclaiming a myopic, incomplete and suspect reporting! And therefore, blissfully following the irrational path most rationally.

Joanne, no doubt you have done a great deal for the art world. We feel you should be recognized for your diligent efforts. Therefore we proudly inform you that you have been elected as our very first honorary: Angry Hillbilly of the Week.
A star is born!

-Dalia Chako, Ico Gallery


Affinities: Fiber and Wax

These following pages are from my article, Affinities: Fiber and Wax, from the current issue (Winter 2011) of the Surface Design Journal. I discuss nine artists--plus Jasper Johns and Louise Bourgeois, both masters of materiality--who integrate wax and fiber in ways that transcend conventional thinking about fiber or wax. 

The article grew out of a talk I gave to the Textile Study Group of New York in May 2010
 Click each image to enlarge it to full size for reading or closer viewing

The Table of Contents, above, with the visual directory, below

The background image of the visual directory, above, is a detail of a waxed woven-paper surface. A full view of that work, by Joan Giordano, is on page 37, second image down from here

The opening page of the article, showing an installation by Louise Bourgeois. Cast wax hands, of parents and child, are on the pedestal in the foreground. They are surrounded by cones of yarn and thread. As a child, Bourgeois often lent a hand in her parents' tapestry restoration business in Choisy, near Paris. In the later years of her career, this master of many mediums focused largely on fiber and cloth. (This installation was part of the artist's 2008 retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York City)

Above, top: The work of Sam Moyer, whose work was shown in a solo at the Rachel Uffner Gallery on the Lower East Side in 2010;  and Joan Giordano at Serrano Contemporary in Chelsea in 2009
Click individual pics to enlarge the images

Above: Valerie Hammond, top, in a solo at Walker Contemporary, Boston, in 2010; and Nancy Natale, whose work was included in Wax Libris II, at the Fourth International Encaustic Conference in Massachusetts in 2010

Above: Lorrie Fredette, top, shown at Surprenant Art and Design, Kingston, New York; my own diamond-shaped painting from a solo at Arden Gallery, Boston, in 2010; installation by Barbara Ellmann, shown at The Gallery of R&F, Kingston, New York, in 2010

Renee Magnanti carved painting, shown in the group exhibition Waxed in Time, at the Tenri Cultural Institute, New York City, in 2010