Interlacing materiality and meaning through abstraction and its processes1
Wendy Kelly presents a series of linear lattices and gridded tableaux, on gallery walls and in artist books. Underscored by a minimalist, “almost monochromatic” sensibility,2 the seeming simplicity of Kelly’s geometric abstractions at first glance give lie to their complexity, richness and emotion. Titled “Undercurrent,” her exhibition of non-figurative abstractions resolutely rejects mimetic representation and iconographic symbols but nonetheless wells with palpable metaphoric resonance. A confluence of meaningful correspondences, with music, language, geometric sequences and traditions of weaving, manifests in the very fabric of Kelly’s art and its methods of production.
On close inspection, one finds that Kelly’s low-keyed ‘reductive’ abstractions are actually constructed from intricate networks of cotton threads and an amalgam of found papers, paint and iridescent pigments stretched over, adhered to and rubbed into canvas. Fine filaments tautly fixed to the picture’s plane create rhythmic repetitions akin to musical meters. Strict symmetry, however, is nuanced by modulations in luminosity and surface. With their edges raised, her physical lines refract light differently when viewed from different directions. And in works such as “Feather,” lines crisscross diagonally as well as perpendicularly, engendering emotional undertones.
In many of Kelly’s paintings, multiple veils of transparent coloured glaze congeal over her threaded frameworks, creating inflections and cadences, which seem to sing. Sometimes submerged under these transparent and thinly applied pigments one can also make out the presence of words. In her small paintings bearing titles such as “Indigo Page,” “Aged Page,” and the “The Music Teacher’s Homework,” pages extracted from discarded tomes are enmeshed within her familiar gridded paradigms. However, in a process reminiscent of drawn thread embroidery, it is the absence of threads pulled from her palimpsests that create the presence of softly furrowed grids. In doing so, all textual significance gives way to textural non-verbal statement.
Combining modernist art traditions with ideas of weaving, her handmade book, titled “White,” features white on white grids. Each of its pages has been laced with horizontal paper ribbons threaded through vertical slits. Literally forming warp and weft, these paper slices weave under and over confounding notions of figure and ground, centre and periphery. Cognizant of artistic precursors desiring eternity and those conversely predicting oblivion (the death of painting), in contrast Kelly’s art is concerned with negotiating the present.
Kelly’s simple yet sensuous compositions, indeed, result from an elaborate, sequential mode of making but are also imbued with a “spirited refinement,” which Kelly refers to as “spirituel.”3 Weaving aged materials with fresh, and artistic legacies with the contemporary Wendy Kelly’s sensuous abstractions provide a focus for quite contemplation and emotional engagement in the present.
Dr Anne Bennett, November 2011.
Visual artist and independent curator
1 Note that Kelly’s PhD research resulted in her publication Wendy Kelly, Abstraction and its Processes: An historical and practical investigation into abstract visual language, (Saarbrücken, Germany: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing GmbH & Co KG 2011).
2 See Kelly, Abstraction and its Processes, 136.
3 As opposed to the term spiritual, which is often conflated with ideas of religiosity in Kelly, Abstraction and its Processes, 125.