Feature Articles

November 2013

Waterworks Visual Arts Center in Salisbury, NC, Features Works by Brett Baker, Chris Nitsche, and Leslie Pontz

The Waterworks Visual Arts Center in Salisbury, NC, is presenting Restructure – Contrast and Balance, featuring works by Brett Baker, Chris Nitsche, and Leslie Pontz, on view through Feb. 1, 2014.

Three regional artists’ diverging styles, along with a group show, meet in a challenging exhibition that highlights the juxtaposition of contrasting elements, challenging the viewer to explore the concept of co-existing contrasts that present an array of conflicts. This exhibition explores how artists arrange elements in their work to depict the complex dynamic relationships between distinctly different elements and ideas.

Brett Baker (Durham, NC) paints in oils on canvas. To begin each piece, he puts paint down until the background is covered. Each stroke moves him to the next and an interesting relationship, usually color, will happen. His paintings are dense, thick abstract matrixes of interlocking marks, rows of vertical and diagonal dashes. He looks at the thickness of the paint and the color relationships to achieve his finished artwork. In his small paintings, Baker uses little to no medium so that the viewer is presented with full-bodied layers of oil color.

Baker states, “My work slowly approaches a place where observation and the physical manifestation of ideas can intersect. The application of paint is universal in that it could be left by any hand. Yet, subject to repetition and scrutiny, mark and color are gradually calibrated to achieve a unity and visual complexity. My work slowly approaches a place where observation and the physical manifestation of ideas can intersect. More specifically, I’m interested in applying the kind of slow looking that occurs naturally in observational painting to abstraction. I investigate the abstract image as equivalent to an observed object.”

“This idea has opened my work up to subjects, such as the raised hand, the table, and the self portrait,” continues Baker. “These subjects lend their individual influences to an intuitive painting process, informing the space in a given painting. Portraits have a shallow, frontal depth. A table is a surface that can alternate between flatness and perspective. The raised hand, which can be seen in many Byzantine and Russian icon paintings, mirrors the picture plane and is also an invitation to touch. Ultimately, each painting must feel resolved to me in relation to metaphorical subjects like these while remaining a resolutely autonomous object.”

Baker earned his BFA from the College of William and Mary and his MFA in Painting from Boston University. His work has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in Painting, and he has exhibited throughout the US. He is a nationally recognized blogger, art writer, and editor of Painters’ Table, a painting magazine blog with international readership. His current body of Recent Work is exhibited in the Stanback Gallery Hall.

Chris Nitsche (Savannah, GA) builds sculptures that evoke the visual and metaphorical attributes of ships; a pursuit he started in 1995. Nitsche’s methods in building sculptures fall into two distinct processes; found object constructions and welded steel works. The first are sculptures built from cast-aside toys, household items and game parts, which he obsessively collects. His process is meticulous; he chooses and assembles objects in molds fashioned as ship hulls, using bonding agents that adhere these divergent materials. Paradoxical forces are at work in these intimately scaled pieces. The juxtaposed materials and design reveal clarity. The sculptures unleash narrative expressions of irony, satire, and personal contexts from deceptively modest forms into intricate constructions.

Nitsche’s second approach in welded steel involves a mix of found metal and new stock. He gravitates to utilitarian objects and metal implements for their unique aesthetic significance and transformative properties. The new steel he prefers becomes derelict planking for some works, and formalist contour for others. In planning the steel works, Nitsche uses a David Smith technique by chalk drawing the idea on the studio floor. This way he gestures the movement and scale of the work, determining linear lightness or textural density.

Nitsche conceives and realizes the artwork in series. It is his means to explore different perspectives of a focused inspiration, in form and content. The found object assemblages offer tremendous flexibility associated with narrative intent and materials. These works include an amalgam of personal experiences, and being sensitized to the grand and intimate visual realities of his surroundings. Some of these works evoke satiric humor, though the obsessive, closed off qualities have disquieting, mysterious connotations. With the steel sculptures, Nitsche imagines the components forming together by precarious coincidence, where each object finds its correct place in articulating the desired ship form. They evoke buoyant gestures of steel with a synergistic energy.

Nitsche received his BFA in Painting and Drawing from Northern Illinois University and his MFA from the University of New Mexico. He is a professor of Foundation Studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States. His work, The Ships Sail On: Christopher Nitsche – A Mid-Career Survey, is presented in the Osborne and Woodson Galleries.

Leslie Pontz (Philadelphia , PA) creates unique sculpture by crocheting wire and monofilament forms and combining them with iron and fiber elements. The result is non-traditional fiber sculptures that challenge the senses and the mind. She works without pre-set boundaries and rules, which gives her an energy that transfers to the “canvas” as she pushes the materials around until the finished piece emerges.

Pontz states, “I remember thinking on my first visit to the desert how glorious it was with its grayed colors and hard shapes and soft sand and prickly textures. There were so many contrasts in this quiet world of sand and lizards. Yet from the very first moment that I experienced this environment, it seemed so peaceful, full of shapes and textures that did not seem to go together but definitely wanted to live together. Since that time I have continued to be intrigued with exploring the juxtaposition of contrasting elements that are far more exciting existing together than independently. By combining materials like crocheted metal, silk organza, thread, and rusted industrial elements, I am able to explore this concept of co-existing contrasts that constantly reminds me that life itself presents an array of conflicts that always need balancing.”

Light is important to Pontz’s work. There is an external form that is quite easy to see and touch, but there are also inner forms and textures that are created by the glazing of the materials and forms. As the unexpected combinations of materials are layered one over another, the light allows the viewer to discover the new textures that are created and see through to the inner fabric/vitality of the piece. Without the inner play of the light, so much in these multi-dimentional pieces could be lost.

“The rawness of my finished work is an integral part of the artistic statement, adds Pontz. “It is a statement that stretches the boundaries of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots,’ of perfection and imperfection. I find it very invigorating to work without pre-set boundaries and rules, because that gives me an energy that I believe transfers to the ‘canvas’ as I push the materials around until the finished piece emerges. Working with this kind of an open mindset also provides me with a sense of freedom. There is no such thing as a mistake, and that is a wonderful freedom.”

Pontz has shown her work both nationally and internationally and is the recipient of several awards. She holds an MFA in printmaking from Syracuse University Her current body of work, Leslie Pontz: Shaping Space is on view in the Norvell Gallery.

For further information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Center at 704/636-1882 or visit (www.waterworks.org).

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