About a month ago, I was invited to be in the exhibition “Off the Wall” at J.Rinehart Gallery. The eponymous and lovely Judith Rinehart handed me three 8″ x 8″ frames. The frames upon closer inspection turned out to be shadowboxes, which seemed to beg for yet another new process and medium, and for pushing my work a little further into the third dimension.
For many years as a side gig, I have been helping people pick paint colors for their homes and businesses. As a result, I’ve ended up with a rather large collection of pint-sized house paint samples, in the sorts of colors one might put on a wall in a living room or office. I’d been aching to use these things for something, so for this project I decided to restrict my palette to only the colors of the samples I had on hand. After painting them all out on paper swatches, I realized they looked an awful lot like the dusty colors in old paint-by-number sets.
I had chanced upon a book about Josef Albers’ travels in Mexico, which partly inspired the images that I would later translate into relief. After seeing the ruins at Mitla, Oaxaca (which I visited 25 years ago myself) Albers painted some geometric compositions based upon the temple’s receding planes of carved patterned stone and their sharp relief in the bright sun. Albers’ interlocking and overlapping shapes appear to be generated by a single line that bounces around the frame. The flat shapes are painted in colors that give an illusion of depth and transparency. I bounced a lot of lines around until I had something I liked, then translated my drawings into actual depth, four layers of a very not transparent medium, masonite. I assigned each layer its own color (not unlike the color separations I’m doing in screenprinting).
Branching out from Albers’ sharp euclidean shapes, I also bounced around the lines of old-timey tents (from a 1960’s Sunset camping guide), using a state-park-inspired palette. The lightest green in the piece above is named “Folk Art” by the folks at Benjamin Moore, which seemed an apt name for a piece constructed in a shop-class manner.
The paint colors all have numbers, of course, a delightful echo of their paint-by-number qualities. There exists a exhibit catalog about the mid-century paint-by-number phenomenon, from the Smithsonian of all places, which naturally I own. I did complete a number of paintings from these kits as a kid; what I remember most from them is that I learned how to reverse-engineer an image: particularly how the modelling and shadows on an object, the convincing illusion of depth and even transparency, were made up of discrete hard-edged shapes of these dusty, flat industrial colors. (Copying at the Lourvre is all well and good, but a budding painter living in the wilds of Parma, Ohio will make due with what the craft-industrial complex provides.)
But I digress. Next, I transferred each layer’s shapes onto the back of a piece of painted masonite, then cut it out with a jigsaw.
Nearly everyone for whom I’ve ever done a color consultation expresses the wish to be “that person who names the paint colors.” The names are indeed evocative yet noncommittal, which, coincidentally, also happen to be desirable qualities in the title of a work of art . And so of course I couldn’t let those names go unused; the title of each piece is the name of one of the colors in it. Having spent much of my professional life sneering at art that “goes with the couch” (or any other bit of the decor), I’ve decided instead to embrace the irony: Should a collector desire to reverse the formula and paint their walls to match the art, I will happily provide the color numbers.
Oh, and there’s this: Everything in the “Off the Wall” show is $100(!) and the happy collector can take their piece off the wall upon purchase. The gallery will be releasing new work every Saturday, so the show will keep changing all month. It opens Thursday, December 2 (reception 6-8 with the usual pandemic restrictions), and run through December 24th. J.Rinehart Gallery is located at 319 Third Avenue South in Seattle’s fabulous Pioneer Square.
Scarecrow 8″ x 8″
Folk Art 8″ x 8″
Pure Essence 8″ x 8″