Tuesday, October 20, 2009

REPRINT: Cheryl Betz at Claire's in Hardwick

Paintings Offer An Abstract Window On Reality

by David K. Rodgers
Originally published in The Hardwick Gazette and reprinted by permission

Cheryl Betz’s paintings, now on exhibit at Claire's Restaurant, demonstrate the paradox that abstract art can sometimes show reality better than realistic works.

The dominant characteristic of her paintings is an uncanny glow in their centers, which almost seems to emanate from the surface rather than just being reflected off of it. Are we looking within ourselves, to mystical experiences in the deeper levels of our minds through intense meditation (a kind of “inner Northern lights”) or are we seeing the true nature of the universe as revealed by contemporary nuclear physics, where below the surface on the molecular scale everything merges in constantly changing fields of energy; or are we here doing both simultaneously?

Paintings don't come into being all at once but grow in sequences as they are created, with a considerable amount of improvisation (as in music) along the way. It is interesting to reconstruct how Betz achieves this unique quality of light in her works. To start with, she paints in a medium
of oil and beeswax on linen, which gives the surface a mellow sheen, like the patina on old furniture or bronze sculptures, subtly sensuous.

In her artist’s statement, she describes how she begins with the “intricate structures of various phenomena that occur in the natural world,” but then obscures these forms with many layers of paint, so the overlaps merge in a rich visual mix. Looking closely at a painting by Rembrandt,
Turner or Monet, for example, reveals the same building up of numerous blending brushstrokes of color, creating a beautiful vibrating effect. In Betz’s pieces, these glowing areas are heightened by juxtaposition to her subdued palette of dark greens, blues, reds, ochre yellows and browns on the edges, which shade to black on the borders, where the lack of any kind of formal frame makes the paintings seem to hover on the wall.

Within her floating compositions we can discern on the periphery vague repeated patterns of lines, which as the titles indicate (Of Veins, Fucus Vesiculosus Linnaeus, Husk, etc.) suggest the veins of leaves (or those of our own bodies) essential to the circulating of life’s vital fluids, as well as the rounded forms of cells, seeds or eggs, perhaps symbolic of the rebirth and continuity of life. Other paintings, such as the Isle Au Haut series, seem to spring from the horizontal bands of natural landscapes.

Two additional associations these works bring to mind are, first, the startling luminosity clouds sometimes take on at certain times of day. This is analogous in an inner sphere to what the mystic Jacob B√∂hme calls the “Cloud of Unknowing.” Second, on a more cosmic level, they suggest the auras of distant galaxies and supernovas the Hubble Space Telescope discovered.

This exhibition of Betz's paintings will continue until Nov. 23.

This review is reprinted, with permission, from The Hardwick Gazette

Images from top
: Fucus Vesiculosus Linnaeus, Axial X