Jennifer Wolf’s Entrancing Canvases Delve into the Histories of Cochineal and Indigo

  • Installation view of “Jennifer Wolf: Edge of Miscibility” at William Turner Gallery, Santa Monica. Courtesy William Turner Gallery and the artist.

Jennifer Wolf’s new paintings at William Turner Gallery in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station almost resemble photographs of dancers. Not in that there’s any sort of pictorial content that might suggest that, but there’s a halting movement in the way the naturally dyed colors are frozen mid-swirl, stuck by a waxy mordant that halts this abstract world in its tracks. There’s a ghostly fluidity in the stained canvases, recalling the effect of adding colored dye to water. The title of the show, “Edge of Miscibility,” refers to the way the colors threaten to mix together completely, but never quite do.

Using strictly natural dyes, Wolf floods the paintings with cochineal (or carmine) and indigo dyes. The rich dyes are applied liberally onto the canvases, but the colors themselves are imbued with a specific meaning—particularly the cochineal. It is derived from the ground up exoskeletons of female cochineal beetles, and while its color is on the red spectrum, it  can also appear as soft lavender, luminous pink, or lively orange. Mayans and Aztecs used the prized cochineal dye for clothing and as war paint thousands of years ago—the Aztec emperor Moctezuma at one time even required individual states to pay him an annual tribute of cochineal dye. Today it is used as a natural colorant in food products.

Wolf’s indigo dye also has a history. Like the early Prehispanic civilizations valued carmine, ancient Egyptians similarly admired indigo, which was used to create vivid cerulean clothing and burial shrouds in midnight blue.

These historical narratives are present in the colorful abstractions, granting Wolf’s paintings a certain agelessness. These are the colors used through history and into the present, and Wolf’s paintings tap into a direct dialogue with that past.


—Maxwell Williams

Jennifer Wolf: Edge of Miscibility” is on view at William Turner Gallery, Santa Monica, Nov, 21, 2015 – Jan. 23, 2016.


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