If you love being in Canyonlands National Park or Red Rocks Amphitheater or hiking among Boulder’s Flatirons, you already know the fascination and beauty of sedimentary rocks. Thrust up by tectonic forces from deep beneath the earth’s surface and weathered smooth by wind and rain, they’re nature’s favorite sculptures, speaking to us about unimaginable eons of time, chance, and change. They seem to be the most human of rocks, colored in all the hues of human skin, smooth and warm, standing as sentinels and guides for ancient and modern man, often named by local inhabitants for the people, animals or things they come to resemble. Native people around the world have seen such rock formations as sacred places, sources of visions, dreams and transcendent intuitions.
In “watermark,” her exhibition of small watercolor studies on paper and large acrylics on canvas, Martha Pinkard-Williams paints portions of Red Rocks Park near her home with all these things in mind. Once a figurative artist, she sees the human forms that sleep in landscapes; once apprenticed to a spiritual teacher, she feels the geist in what she sees; always a colorist (she loves Helen Frankenthaler and says “color speaks to the soul”), she delights in capturing the countless shades of sandstone in light and shadow. Influenced many years ago by feminist critic Lucy Lippard, ( e.g., Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory), Martha sees herself fitting into the “herstory” of art. “I can’t paint like a man,” she says, “because I don’t think and feel like a man.” She doesn’t mean she can’t paint as well as a man—she’s a master painter, after all. She means she paints with a woman’s sensibility and eye for intimacy. Many of the paintings in this exhibition focus on what she calls “the places in-between,” the cracks and crevices in the rocks, the spaces between boulders broken apart by time. Look at (left to right) “inner light,” for example, or “matrix,” or “fissure:”
Martha’s “in-between-ness” extends beyond this literal level, however; it refers also to an aesthetic space between realism and abstraction and a psychological space between the conscious and the unconscious. The studies “persephone” (left) and “whisper” (center) illustrate the abstract bones of many of the larger acrylic wash paintings; “reflecting on the infinite” (right), one of her spectacular
snowfield washes in payne’s grey, illustrates the second. As you sit and look at the paintings, your mind shimmers back and forth between different ways of seeing the images, making these among the most dynamic paintings you’ll ever experience. Many viewers call them “voluptuous” or “sensual,” and a few have called them sexually suggestive, like some of Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings. To be sure, if you look for breasts or genitalia in them, you can find them, just as French fur trappers found them when looking at what they called the Tetons. You can feel a certain sexual tension as well in images of large, skin-colored, curving rock bodies that have been almost, but not quite, touching for thousands of years. (How they must long for reunion!) But even to bring this view up is to overstate it. Let’s just say they’re sexually implicit, but not explicit. They say far more about intimacy and relationships and natural harmonies and repetitive universal forms, and time and fate and what comes before words and goes beyond words.
Martha calls her work “landscape-like” because although she is clearly in the (largely masculine, often grandiose and Romantic) Western landscape painting tradition, she is in a special category that I would call the “intimate landscape” tradition. Karen Kitchel, who paints grasses in ways that open up social, historical, and philosophical issues, is an outstanding exemplar of that tradition. Insight, connection, and wisdom can arise while contemplating the humble or the intimate; experience of the sublime need not be a matter of fear and trembling before an Almighty and Unknowable Cosmos.
Martha Pinkard-Williams’ “watermark” includes 47 pieces ranging in size from 7”x 9” to 60”x 96,” all very affordably priced. The show will continue with openings on May 4th, 6-9pm; a Salon with the artist on May 12th , 4-6pm; a special Mother’s Day show May 13th, 11-5pm; and a closing reception on June 1st. In addition, the Pattern Shop Studio is always open for groups and individuals by appointment.
Rex Brown, Pattern Shop Studio.