Proportionality and the Essential Experience of Art in the Work of Joan Waltemath

Rigourously planned and meticulously produced, paintings by artist and critic Joan Waltemath are experiments in formalism and precision. “In the Absence of Grief” now on view at Baltimore’s C. Grimaldis Gallery exhibits drawings and paintings from Waltemath’s ongoing “Torso/Roots” series, which is based on grids and patterns culled from the Fibonacci sequence. 

The Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio, which occur in very high frequency in nature, have been influential in art and architecture for thousands of years, under the postulation that pleasure in the aesthetic experience is a result of the mathematical proportionality of elements in relation to one another. Waltemath bases her “Torso/Roots” works on this precept, pulling her abstract compositions away from Expressionism and plotting them with an intentionality that encourages the viewer to engage with the work. “[I] study structures and [try] to understand how to construct a path for your eye to enter and move around,” she explains. “So as I’m building up my paintings, I’m thinking about where you go and what happens next until the whole journey becomes enfolded into the structure of the painting.”

For “In the Absence of Grief,” Waltemath’s subject is the contemporary urban environment. By translating data into grids, she indirectly conjures the memories and tone of a space, echoing its essential elements in visual terms, such as the rhythm and colors of a foreign city in Mexiking (East Below) (2006-2012) or the feeling of a specific time of day in lit before noon (East 1 1,2,3,5,8…) (2009-2012). The colors and composition of the works are enhanced through a laborious surface treatment process that can take years.  Handmade pigments and graphite are layered precisely and opaquely, resulting in alternating effects of mirror-like shine or ultra-matte blocks that reflect or absorb light from the surrounding space. 

These swatches of color and mirrored elements reflect the body of the viewer when seen in-person, and are impossible to photograph accurately. The insistence of a phenomenological relationship with an artwork is a repeated concern in Waltemath’s work that the  artist seems keen on reminding us to consider.

–K. Sundberg

In the Absence of Grief” is on view at C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, Feb. 19–Mar. 21, 2015.

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