MARK LAVATELLI - ARTIST'S STATEMENT
In my most recent paintings, colored
shapes and stenciled words that name landscape elements and weather phenomena
are juxtaposed with close-up views of trees, suggesting that our experience
of Nature is mediated by perceptual and mental constructs.
The viewer experiences the contrast between flat pictorial space with minimal
overlaps and illusionistic space where tree trunks and branches frame views
into depth. Non-narrative and non-poetic, the words parallel formal elements
in the way they trigger multiple associations, both individually and when
assimilated in varying sequences. Some allude to the issue of global warming.
In other recent work, I combine
patterns of large colored rectangles with the close-up views of trees to make
paintings that reflect the mediated relationship to Nature that most people
experience. The textured color areas break up the “gestalt” of
the tree images, providing a visual metaphor for the fragmentation that is
an inescapable reality of contemporary existence.
Because they meld the contrasting
aesthetics of naturalistic and non-representational painting, the paintings
are challenging, and their color relationships and texture make them sensuous
and stimulating to the eye. I apply multiple layers of hot-wax encaustic paint
and use incising, scraping, collage, and other manipulations unique to encaustic
to activate the surface. By
combining these two distinct form languages, I express the tension between
opposing tendencies: the spontaneous, intuitive, and unrestrained (represented
by nature) and the rational, ordered, and disciplined (represented by rectilinear
geometry). This duality is also reflected in the tension between the paintings
surface and the illusion of depth, between thick and thin paint, between smooth
and rough textures, and between naturalistic and non-naturalistic color. The
interruptions of the natural world created by the geometric shapes also suggest
the incursions of mankind into the environment.
The tree imagery also forms a
link with a series of paintings of an area of deadfall timber in the Sandia
mountains near Albuquerque, New Mexico done while in graduate school in the
late 1970's. Both the landscape and paintings offer real experiences, important
in a world increasingly filled with simulations.
About fifty years ago in an interview
with James Schevill, in response to a question regarding the label "Abstract
Expressionism," the painter Richard Diebenkorn responded by saying: "All
paintings start out of a mood, a relationship with things or people, out of
a complete visual impression. To call this impression abstract seems to me
to confuse the issue. ... A realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference.
The result is what counts."
What counts emerges from the medium,
the beeswax and pigment that is encaustic, a unique temperature-based paint,
unlike any other. What excite me about the paint are the beautiful paint surfaces,
the multiple textures and lines, and the juxtapositions of colors.
I also create encaustic monotypes
that echo the paintings and I have made a series of encaustic monotype portraits.
This unique process involves the transferring of a portrait drawing to the
encaustic palette, adding encaustic paint, careful scraping, and finally re-heating
NOTE: Encaustic painting is an ancient and highly permanent technique in which
the vehicle or binder is beeswax. Unlike linseed oil or synthetic resin (e.g.
acrylic) binders which dry to harden, the beeswax is heated until molten,
mixed with dry pigments to make paint, and, when applied to the painting,
cools and hardens instantly. When the painting is completed, the entire surface
is reheated to fuse the layers and bond them to the support. This is called
burning-in, which is the literal meaning of encaustic.
Although the surface is not as tough as an oil film, encaustic paintings do
not darken or yellow with age. Portraits made in the Fayoum district of Egypt
as early as the 1st century A.D. are as fresh as if they were painted yesterday.
The adhesive qualities of wax also make it an ideal medium for collage.
© Mark Lavatelli