Liz Coats

Wanganui, New Zealand

My current body of work extends back to the mid-1970s when I began to systematize in layers the colors I use to construct an image. Starting with a grid that reflected in detail the scale of the canvas, over time I have expanded those applications of paint to build complex geometries that shape the two-dimensional painting plane into a visual experience of depth and circulation. I have always worked with water-soluble media. The shapes of colors in combination create the overall structure. If lines appear, these are constructed as gaps in the field that act as an underlying holding pattern to the liquid spread of colors.

Initially I was encouraged to study origins of non-figurative painting in Northern Europe and Russia, followed by the significant developments in abstraction and Minimalism in North America. I have also looked carefully at traditional Chinese painting methods and philosophy that imply a whole life involvement with painting practice. From the beginning, I responded with critical attention to US non-figurative painting outcomes. I was intrigued especially by the work of Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin, who seemed to be at odds with conventional groupings of non-figurative painters working in New York. I was attracted to Reinhardt’s and Martin’s different, but to me significant, attention to visual experience.

My analysis of and intuited responses to painting have been strongly affected by feminist concerns. During the 1970s in this part of the world, geometric abstraction was rarely considered by emerging women painters. I was, however, determined to rethink an approach to abstract painting. The growth of women’s professional aspirations in visual art practice mirrors my own development and influenced my desire to leave New Zealand in the mid-1970s to seek broader experience. Lucy Lippard made an impact on her visits to Australia, showing us the work of emerging women artists in the US in the late 1970s.

Consistency in my paintings over time is apparent in the construction rather than through stylistic outcomes. I am challenged to approach painting as an active visual experience. The way the paintings appear to dissolve hard edges brings experiential concerns to the forefront. Although the structural outline is predetermined and relative to the scale of the whole painting field, working with the volatility of colors within those guidelines means that outcomes are never certain. Risk is always central to my approach, to some extent defying tendencies towards control and stability.

Conscious of phenomenological aspects in construction, I seek and respond to experiences of transformation. The symmetry dissolves in asymmetric detail, conditioned by the layers of transparent color and effects of liquid applications. I am fascinated by the way in which logical and connective processes, together with all the variables in media, environment and body responses, can evolve to completion and balance. My intention is that structural clarity may offer direct visual access to viewers.

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