Heat of the Moment

Uttar 298, encaustic on panel, 24x24 inches, 2006

For years I’ve described my painting as lush minimalism. Occasionally I think about coming up with another description, just to keep the signifier as current as the work, but nothing resonates as well as those two little words. The thesaurus is no help. "Succulent reduction" sounds like a sauce de cuisine; "drunk negligibility," like grounds for arrest. And "voluptuous insignificance" just reeks of a bad Internet translation. Geometric abstraction is a good umbrella term for what I do, but it lacks the specificity to describe my particular version of it, which is a sensuous surface married to the austerity of the grid. Fortunately, my visual explorations have yielded more satisfying results than the thesaurus. Tilling a formalist field, I’ve produced three series over the past six years. Uttar, inspired by the brilliant palette of Indian miniatures and the small paintings of Renaissance Siena, continues apace motivated by some force within me that keeps finding new reasons to combine blocks and stacks of color. There are almost 300 paintings in this series—the most recent of them in this exhibition. You might think, "How much can you do with those simple geometric elements?" It’s no longer a matter of the broad gesture—if it ever was at all—but of the variations, painting to painting, within the series. Working serially lets me explore the subtleties of an idea. Inevitably there are changes along the way. I’m not totally in control; things happen in the heat of the moment.

I like how Uttar, while retaining its own identity, has shown me the way to two other series: Vicolo and Silk Road. Italian for "narrow passage," Vicolo exists for

Vicolo 25, encaustic on panel, 18 x 18 inches, 2006

its skived and riven layers. Much of each painting is hidden in layers, and only the act of dragging a metal tool across its surface exposes some of what is beneath. Sometimes I float new color into the channels I have created, and I may then scrape those back. I’ve often referred to my work as a controlled version of the unexpected, and nowhere is that more true than here, for despite my concentration and planning, the painting reveals itself as I work.

Silk Road, my newest body of work, is the most reductive series I’ve ever done. Each painting is a luminous monochrome achieved by applying layers of translucent paint at right angles. Actually it’s not quite the monochrome it appears. Each painting has about 20 layers and five or six different hues. Working in encaustic, pigmented wax, I apply the paint when it is molten. I could mix colors on a hot palette—the Teflon griddle that holds my paints—and sometimes I do; but mostly the color mixing takes place in your eye as the layers of color, sometimes as disparate as yellow and purple, coalesce into one hue. While you’re up close, you’ll see that the subtlest of grids is formed by the trail of brushmarks and intentionally grainy elements within the paint. The suggestion of iridescence and fabric came after the first few paintings were done. The series just named itself. What else to call it but Silk Road? I’ve limned each painting to charge the intensity of its color field and intensify the square shape of each painting. The paintings are typically installed in a grid.

Silk Road 82, encaustic on panel, 18 x 18 inches, 2006

It would be disingenuous to say that a show titled "Heat of the Moment" is just about the fleeting moments of creative ecstasy in the studio. It’s about the way I work. I paint primarily in encaustic, and encaustic requires elevated temperatures—hotplates to melt the wax, a heatgun to fuse the layers of paint once they are laid down. Painting in encaustic permits but a tiny window of opportunity to get a paint-laden brush from the heat source to the surface of the painting before the wax cools and the brush gets stuck. I didn’t choose encaustic because I wanted to make an already difficult calling even more difficult by adopting a process-intensive medium with unyielding parameters. I was drawn by the materiality of the paint, the lushness of it. And by the luminosity. Like a moth to a flame.

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