There are so many wonderful things about summer in Chicago, but it is hard to top the abundance of sunlight streaming through windows, penetrating skin, and filling the eyes of the youth. However, when you are stuck in the office all day it may be difficult to fully enjoy this sunlight. Looking up from my corporate issued monitor, I can see a brief streak of sunlight focused on a small patch of carpet. I look closer, confusing my co-workers greatly, but trying to catch a glimpse at the bright colors of freedom. Wishing I could somehow capture these moments, I return to my cube as cold and pale as a winter storm.
Chicago artist, Martina Nehrling just launched her fourth solo exhibit at Zg Gallery and it is called Through a Purple Patch which begins as an observation of “the dappled sunlight of the Midwestern summer”. Her work not only captures the vivid color of sunlight, but it also alludes to the freedom and wild nature of sunlight. The exhibit runs through July 12th, and is accompanied by a 20 page full-color hard cover book that can be purchased here. Martina received her M.F.A. from the University of Chicago and her B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Recently, Martina was kind enough answer a few of my questions.
Orange Alert (OA): How would you describe your work?
Martina Nehrling (MN): My paintings are largely compositions of accumulated independent brushstrokes in multiple – often bright - colors. I frequently start with a color “field” and sometimes I incorporate poured paint or illusionistic imagery.
OA: I've seen you use words like "cacophony", "auditory", "syncopation" and "rhyming" to describe your work in the past. Do you feel that each color has its own sound or voice?
MN: There is a condition called synesthesia which is a sort of cross-wiring of sensory perception whereby a person might actually perceive sounds in relation to colors or shapes, etc. (Some have said the painter Wassily Kandinsky showed signs of this. In his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art he does ascribe a particular color to each of a variety of musical instruments.) I don’t clinically have synesthesia but, essentially, yes I think each color has its own voice within a piece. It’s something I sense or feel, almost kinesthetically. The nature of a color’s voice in a piece is influenced by the size, shape, frequency of occurrence, etc.; and, the sound of that voice is not fixed from one piece to the next due to the spatial relationships of shape, color contrast, the light/dark pattern – all the elements in the microcosm of a painting.
OA: Another phrase in your Artist Statement refers to listing or stacking events to comment on all that is society. Do you journal or record events in your life in written form before transferring them to canvas? Do you use titles to further catalog these events?
MN: I think you’ve combined a couple ideas from my artist statement. I do think my imagery sometimes operates like sentences or lists (and brushstrokes are often stacked or grouped.) I wouldn’t say I comment on “all that is society” though. A painting is a space or a page on which I take notes, explore, contemplate, celebrate, lament, riot against, or relish the meaning of being here from my perspective.
No I don’t journal. The closest I come to journaling is letter-writing which I do a fair amount of still. Even so I think I have a mistrust of words – in fact, I talk too much just trying to get them right. Consequently, I take the opportunity to give a painting a title very seriously. It’s a function that poses some danger, especially for abstract paintings where the imagery demands a suspension of disbelief from the viewer. This takes an ever-increasing effort in a time where we are inundated with information and visual stimulus. Viewers often look to the title for some explanation. The wrong title can reduce the piece to a one-liner, prompt too-literal an interpretation or otherwise limit the reading of the piece. I seek to strike some “poetic justice” with the title, considering the sounds and connotations of the words as much as meaning. I only occasionally feel I get it spot-on, you know, really jiving the title with the image.
OA: I love the concept of your latest show "Through a Purple Patch". The idea of observing "dappled sunlight" and drawing inspiration from it seems quite warming and freeing as I sit here in a beige cubicle. Can you talk a little about your current exhibit at Zg Gallery?
MN: I’m glad the idea of dappled sunlight suggests warm and free for you. The phrase “Through a Purple Patch” is an old colloquialism that means to experience a period of well being. The title of the show is also the title of a 21 foot long painting featured in the exhibition. I wear my heart on my sleeve when I tell you that it began as homage to Claude Monet. I was moved by his attenuated panoramic painting of water lilies at MoMA. I went back several times to see it and when next I had the opportunity to go to Paris I sought out all the displays of his work and took a side trip to see his home in Giverny. Naturally I respond to the sheer beauty of his work but the distinct brushwork in his later pieces really thrills me and I find the format of the very long panorama especially experiential. As an artist I wanted to work through the process of painting on a similar format. As an admirer I wanted to pay homage by looking to my immediate landscape, a transient moment in a particular place, the simple phenomena of dappled sunlight on the Midwestern neighborhood street in springtime just before the heavy shade of summer. Of course there are other paintings in the show that aren’t about dappled sunlight but “…Purple Patch” set a tenor for a while in the studio that comes through other pieces.
OA: You have been showing your work for nearly ten years in and around Chicago. What are your thoughts on the current gallery scene in Chicago? Is there opportunity for new voices to be heard?
NM: The business of galleries is ever evolving, some close, some more open, but it seems like there is always a contingent of innovative people, often artists themselves, providing venues for new talent as well as unconventional work. These are usually the hippest scenes. I don’t sense a shortage of opportunities for new talent – but if I’m wrong (I have been holed up in the studio lately) then it won’t be long until those that see the need start a new project in the community. People rail against the limits to success in the arts in Chicago and while that is a valid grievance the energy and activity in the art community seems to allow new talent to at least get their feet wet, so to speak.
OA: What's next for Martina Nehrling?
NM: I will be part of the Artist Connects lecture series at the Art Institute in the fall (Saturday, November 1, 2008) where I will be presenting my work in relation to inspiring pieces in the museum's collection on Saturday November 1, 2008. In the meanwhile I will spend some time in the studio enjoying looser objectives post show, but not too loose as I should do some of the businessy-business of researching exhibition opportunities and the like.
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
NM: My favorite coffee is something my husband makes at home using a cold toddy process. He used to roast coffee for Coffee and Tea Exchange and we still get our coffee from them, usually the French roast by mail order.
OA: Do you listen to music while your paint? Who are a few of your favorite while painting and in general?
NM: Unless I’m expressly responding to a piece of music for a painting, I only occasionally listen to music when I paint because it can be so directive. I usually have NPR on and on Saturday night there is a music program, I really enjoy and use as a signal to wind down what ever I’m doing. Sounds square, huh? The program is out of New Orleans, called American Roots, and each show is dedicated to music related to a particular theme, meandering through blues, country, soul, bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll.
For more information on Martina Nehrling you can visit the Zg Gallery website. Her exhibit at Zg Gallery runs from June 6th to July 12th.