When an artist doesn’t just paint water but makes her own paints and photographs a ripple tank to do it, you know she’s serious.
That would be Elise Richman, associate professor of art at the University of Puget Sound and winner of this year’s Foundation of Art award from the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. The foundation’s roundup exhibit, which included Richman’s commissioned work, just closed downtown. But you can still see the painter’s latest work at an exhibit at Kittredge Gallery that pairs Richman with fellow UPS faculty Janet Marcavage in a beautifully abstract study of visual movement: “Ripple and Unfold.”
Those familiar with Richman’s pooling canvases of waterfall-like blue paint will get a surprise at Kittredge. For a while now, the artist has been exploring how pigment, ink and powdered gum arabic behave naturally, watching as they pool and flow on canvas and responding to the rivulets with her own interventions. The result, as in the foundation’s commissioned work “Ebb and Flow,” is a spill of ultramarine puddling and textured, glinting turquoise and fading to a slate-gray echo on snow-white canvas — a frozen waterfall, stopped forever in its deep blue plummet with a deep, Google Earth kind of density.
The 2014 “Ripple” series is another world completely. Here, water doesn’t flow organically, blending with whatever other elements come along. Instead it eddies out from a single drop in a series of mesmerizing, concentric rings — paint imitating the form of water, rather than the element itself. As with her previous series though, Richman does her research: Working with a ripple tank in her studio, she drops water in and quickly photographs the results before reproducing in paint.
Richman’s large, square canvases work much better than her small rectangular ones. Quite apart from the sheer size, there’s more space for her to expand each circle with layers of aqua, ultramarine, violet and black, interspersed with pale pinky cream “scumble,” or dry brush paint. The larger works also use Richman’s own handmade paint of pigment and linseed oil, creating a fascinating texture of bubbles and scratches that pulls in your eye almost as much as the tunneling spirals of light and dark — compared to the flat, hard, glinty surface of the acrylics and inks in the smaller works — and creates an overall effect of billowing fabric.
Marcavage, too, plays with movement in her “Warp and Weft” series of screenprints inspired by household fabrics: towels, scarves, tablecloths. With subtle, hand-drawn stripes in blue-green inks, she recreates folds and drapes that shift as you walk by. In the smaller gallery, where Richman’s original water photographs glow with smudged gold, inscrutable as ancient artifacts, Marcavage’s silvery-gray inks imitate the cheerful shine of the gingham they’re inspired by and elevating the mundane.
In “Ripple and Unfold,” Marcavage abstracts the domestic, while Richman abstracts the natural, each artist ending up with a synchronicity of movement that flows through both.