A 32”-square of weatherworn wood discovered at an upstate New York flea market is the genesis for my new body of work. For many years, I’d been painting aerial views of the giant checkerboard landscape of the American West—and I couldn’t resist buying this off-kilter, handmade version of the grid—which had been retired from its original function as the lid to a chicken crate.
My flea market treasure hung in the studio for nearly a year while I reflected on how I might enhance its homely perfection; eventually, Chickengrid was born. More importantly, it inspired me to look for other found elements and supports for my paintings. I began playing with cardboard packing forms, wine box dividers, loom cards from a 19th century fabric mill, plastic packaging. I was fascinated by the beautiful forms inherent to these industrial materials—which few of us stop to register as they come in and out of our lives. Typically they’re annoyances, something to be discarded or recycled.
Using the wax-and-pigment medium of encaustic, I hoped to transform these eccentric, throw-away objects into solid form or pattern, visible when infused with color. Such packing forms as One Way, which protected a radio while in transit, become iconic pieces of design, familiar yet unfamiliar. Similarly, Starbucks coffee trays are given a makeover in Location 819, painted and dressed up in bits of tulle and satin.
Arrangements of the loom cards from Scalamandre’s now-defunct Long Island factory invoke the Golden Mean and honeycombs. Simple pieces of cardboard used to divide wine cartons have been recombined to create designs that remind us of Aboriginal or pre-Columbian art. And casts of the most ephemeral plastic packaging—from printer cartridges, battery packs or take-out food —become mini-still lives in Unrefined.
With their saturated color and hand-burnished surfaces, these new works speak to the possibility of transformation, in which the most ignoble object can be given new life. They are formal, abstract objects, part of a century-old aesthetic conversation about pattern, color and surface. But I hope they also contain an element of humor and play—and provoke questions about our culture of consumerism and waste. Finally, they remind us not to take even the simplest things for granted.
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email Gail Gregg