Portland artist Katherine Ace matches computer wizardry with polished painterly technique in new works on display at Seattle's Woodside/Braseth Gallery.
A little bit of everything is going on in the work of Portland artist Katherine Ace: computer manipulation, painterly illusion, visual and textual collage, even a variation on time travel.
Viewed from a distance, her works look like flawlessly executed oil paintings, riffing on Italian Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age tradition. Images from Caravaggio, Botticelli and other artists peer out from among “bouquets” of wine glasses and scattered still-life helpings of fruit, often set eccentrically against backdrops of beach shingle and crumpled sheets of newspaper.
Step up close, however, and you’ll see that Ace’s intricate artwork is far removed from conventional painting, even if alkyd and oil paints play a role in it.
Those newspapers — the story printed on them isn’t of city-hall scandal or international crisis but brief passages lifted from Greek myth and other sources, repeated over and over again.
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Those beach stones — some are painted and some are “found” images fastened to the canvas. And from behind them appear more faces and figures from historical artworks, so subtle they’re almost subliminal.
But even describing these nonpainted items as “found” is a bit misleading. Ace doesn’t merely clip them from magazines and paste them into place, but manipulates them in her computer, then makes digital prints of them on acid-free paper that won’t harm the canvas.
Collage items, once in position, are often touched up with paint, either around their edges to make them blend with their painted surroundings or layered diaphanously directly over the digitally printed images to truly blur the boundary between painting and photography.
What’s the purpose behind all this busy, meticulous technique?
Ace is intuitively conflating past and present, creating visual worlds where time itself — along with memory and imagination — enters a kind of omnidirectional flux.
The time-travel component in these works isn’t present merely in their content but in the materials and techniques employed. Some pigments Ace uses — bone black for shadow-dense backgrounds, a poisonous tincture for her apples — have been around for centuries. But the computer technology that lets her bend her myth-filled newspapers into complex folds and creases wasn’t available a decade ago.
Her delight in layered illusion and her mischievous humor are evident throughout the show. She continually keeps you on your toes, sometimes throwing you completely off-balance as you try to tell where painted image ends and printed image begins.
This blurring between media is seamless from a distance, but discernible close-up — really close-up, that is. Here’s one show where it helps to be myopic, so you can take off your glasses and get within inches of the canvas, just to see what’s going on in it.
The result is artwork that repays multiple viewings. Richly provocative in its ambiguities of theme and technique, it blends past and present into a single, vibrant, paradox-filled vision.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org