This Month At Washington Art Association: Paintings & Drawings By Harman Explore ‘Life In The Balance’
WASHINGTON DEPOT — Washington Art Association & Gallery (WAA) is presenting “Life in the Balance,” a collection of paintings and drawings by Caroline Harman of Newtown, through August 24.
Ms Harman is scheduled to offer an artist’s talk at the WAA gallery on Thursday, August 8, at 4 pm. She has been working on her art for nearly a quarter of a century, she said last week. She is grateful not only for the opportunity to have a one-person show but is also looking forward to inviting people into that world through the talk.
“Some of the work” on view at WAA, the artist said last week, “is representative of previous time, where everything was predetermined, exploring the idea of heroism, and conceptual.”
Believing that nature speaks in patterns, Ms Harman uses multi-rhythmical forms, color, and geometry to respond to the boundless stimuli and increasing instability that surrounds everyone and everything. She explores how living organisms, and the entangled systems within which they exist, adapt to random events and adverse conditions.
According to notes from the gallery, Ms Harman’s paintings and drawings “shift from chaos to symmetry. The ‘edge of chaos’ is a term in complex systems theory that describes the exact point where a chaotic system meets an ordered system. It is a moment where new emergent phenomena can occur. The idea, then, is to push each painting up to and past the point of chaos in order to observe what happens.”
The Newtown resident follows a process that involves a slow, careful buildup of layers to create balance, and the frequent introduction of random disrupters — ink stains, paint pours, sprays, and drips — to create imbalance. The two opposing forces work continuously with and against each other over many months.
“The work I make now is very slow. It can take up to a year to make one painting,” Ms Harman said July 25. “That’s because they’re so deeply layered, and when I make that work, I just have to let the idea stream directly to my hand, or the brush, or whatever tool I’m working. I have to just allow the amount of time that’s necessary to come into balance.”
Two things happened that shifted Ms Harman from the representative artist she was into the abstract artist she is today.
The first event happened 11 years ago, she said last week, when her youngest child was diagnosed with leukemia.
“That was a big thing,” said the mother of four. “That pulled me out of the studio for about two years, and then I was present at Yale Oncology, watching children suffer.”
When she returned to the studio, she said, she didn’t have much to say.
“The only thing I witnessed was staying present and being able to adapt,” she said. “I went in and started making smaller pieces, but I didn’t dictate the work. It formed itself.”
Previous work, she explained, was both very representational and conceptual.
“I used to imagine myself a modern day Jane but kind of dropped the idea of being a hero and was more interested in adapting and enduring and surviving,” she said.
The second event that changed her was, as she said, “being a resident of Newtown in 2012,” during and after 12/14.
“That forged that idea even further,” she said. “I started thinking about complex systems, so I started making work about that. The painting really deals with representing indescribable and unexplainable things that can’t really be fully expressed with words.”
The one word Ms Harman has written on the walls of her studio over the 20 years she has been in that space, she said, is adaptability.
“That’s it,” she said. “The color and geometry and mark-making can all swerve and adapt, just like our bodies and our towns. They’re all buffeted by forces we can’t see. We navigate and adapt.
“The paintings are laid out in front of me now,” she added. “I’m just trying to keep up.”
The title of the WAA exhibition references the idea that “every human, animal, plant — the entire planet — we’re all a complex system existing in a complex system, and whether one can adapt, I find frightening,” she said.
“I think at this moment in time, life is in the balance,” she said.
Washington Art Association & Gallery is at 4 Bryan Memorial Plaza, just west of the intersection of Routes 47 and 199 in Washington Depot. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; and Sunday (through Labor Day), 10 am to 2 pm.