Catalogue Essay by Michael Odom
Liz Ward: Time and Temperature
The Gallery at University of Texas at Arlington, Texas, 2014
Liz Ward’s large, lush watercolors have held my attention for several years. These are post-minimal abstractions with more than a bit of the flavor I’ve found in Eva Hesse – that is, the process of making the painting very clearly informs what it looks like.
Leaf Cutters (2008) is a large watercolor comprised of big, gentle elegant organic loops in vibrating harmonies of green and sienna. Pale pink and off-white meanders sit atop the abstracted leaf forms and suggest the the damage done by certain insect larva, which burrow and feed on the leaves’ interiors.
Glacial Ghost III (2012) is a cascade of rich blue which has been applied in a series of overlapping layers and so thins as it descends the paper. Faint, but noticeable sparkles in the pigment suggest ice, so do the crystal like textures apparently created by blotting the pool of watercolor. The result is a set of linear angularities in the paint which plays edgy counterpoint to the liquid flow. Loss and environmental elegy are the point: it’s dying. Here’s the ghost.
Ward’s set of small silverpoints makes perfect sense in a room next door to all those gravures. It’s a beautiful antique image-making technique and perfectly suited to Ward’s sensibility. Drawn with silver wire on a gessoed surface, the faint lines become more apparent as the silver tarnishes. Her silverpoints are a selection of works which illustrated the book Unchopping a Tree, a collaboration between the artist and the poet W.S. Merwin.
Her artist’s statement mentions the absurdity of “unchopping”, undoing the damage we have done to the earth. It has been argued that we now live in the Anthropocene geological era because of the human species’ undeniable and significant impact on the earth’s flora, fauna, chemistry, and climate.
The silverpoints offer a rich visual text to those who spend a little time with them.
Scaly Stems (2013) presents a snake skin pattern in various portions on a square paper sheet coated with tinted gesso. The vertical movement of the organic structures appear to reference to a plant damaged by predatory insects (our surrogates?).
This and other silverpoint drawings read as segments of a photomicrograph.
In Scarred Rings (2013), delicate short lines undulate between long vertical lines like a detail of the xylem and phloem of living wood observed at the cellular level. I can imagine the meditative experience of making so many similar lines in a medium that you almost can’t see. Sometimes drawing can be light like chanting a prayer. The scars in the title are four orange worm shapes – injured vascular tissues, which even though apparently healed over are still damaged.
Ward’s images range into the impossible as with Hot Glacier (2012) a beautiful red, orange, and violet cascade which describes a crazy internal contradiction of heat and ice. But they also reference the terribly real as in Ice Balloon (Tundra) (2014), a large watercolor I take to be a response to methane eruptions which have occurred as the Siberian permafrost has recently proved it was not really permanent after all.
Via blotting and concentric rings of color an organic flow gets overpowered by a crystalline structure which makes mournful mad sense, given the title.
In the gallery’s spacious foyer Ward drew a large graphite and collage mural, Widening Circles (Lake Arlington) (2014), in which small orbs of watercolored paper operate like pebbles tossed into the water making ripples which expand out. But unlike the lyrical forms of her watercolors, these shapes are drawn aggressively, in thick graphite. This is certainly not the sort of ripple of the Grateful Dead’s sweet song. The mural’s expanding rings and colliding aggression clearly imply damage, injury. And its toughness, its bald inelegance signal that this time the gloves have come off.
Michael Odom is an artist and art critic based in Commerce, Texas.