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by Marge Bulmer

“Premnemonic,” encaustic
on leach paper on panel,
39 1/2 x 70 1/2”, 2000.

"Metanym," encaustic over wood
on panel, 30 x 5 x 31", 2000.

(Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica) Barbara Kerwin builds complex paintings involved with pattern, texture and color. They stir the imagination and invite you to contemplate form and surface, as well as light and shadow. Kerwin organizes her work into a tight structure and then intuitively assembles each square or rectangular module. Translucent, evanescent light dances across encaustic paint, evoking shifting light on the desert, flickering hues on the ocean at sunset, evening purple shadows, or glowing summer morning light.

Kerwin constructs her architectonic systems as though she were building an edifice. As a matter of fact, her first two years in college were spent studying architecture before she switched over to Fine Arts. She uses layers of leach paper, a material utilized by contractors, panel board, or layers of canvas to form a sturdy work surface. Her substructure of blocks measuring from 2 x 2” to 1/8” combine with a variety of colors such that the composition carries the eye in and out, up and down and across. She achieves her rich color by combining oil pigment with jeweler’s wax mixed at an extremely high temperature. The paraffin adds an evancescent translucence. Although multiple layers of paint are applied, the surfaces are not heavy or thick, but rather somewhat transparent. One feels impelled to touch and investigate how the effect is achieved.

The largest painting in the exhibit, Premnemonic, is a combination of 240 separate square paintings, each a subtle and distinct shade of pink, peach, ochre, mauve, soft beige, and even a hint of green. These are joined together so that the colors optically combine and separate as your eye moves across the surface of the work. A pink sunset reflecting on a body of water comes to mind. Then again, the colors also suggest the mauve and pink California light on the Mojave desert.

Innermost Beat, done in shades of deep crimson, dark red wine, and bright cherry red conveys a deeply passionate encounter. The brown, orange, and ochre shades of Metanym call to mind the New Mexico landscape. Each piece encourages you to revisit a variety of personal associations. The yellows and golds of Morning Light glow like light streaming in the window on a summer’s morning, while the dark purple, midnight blue and lavendar in Shard are like shadows cast from a grove of trees as dusk descends.

"Innermost Beat," encaustic on
paper over panel, 20 x 40", 2000.

"Morning Light," encaustic over
paper on panel, 30 x 72", 2000.
Although these paintings are non-objective and without figurative elements, neither are they minimalist. As she adds layers of encaustic Kerwin loads on stimulants to meaning. These are surfaces to dream on.

[In addition to this solo exhibition, Kerwin’s work is also currently on view in group shows at the Century Gallery in the San Fernando Valley, and the Huntington Beach Art Center in Orange County--Ed.]