A group of visually arresting small paintings by Angela White are on view at the Rachel Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center of the Northern Virginia Community College Alexandria campus. While most of these are approximately 6-inch squares, there are a few larger works included here, still modest at approximately 8” x 10”, with the largest, Joy, at 30” x 36”.
White has painted with layered encaustic on these small panels for some years now. They are most often framed with lattice projecting from behind so that they have the feeling of little books or boxes containing something hidden or marvelous. At the smaller size these paintings are objects that can be held in the hand and contemplated. Like mantras, their depth and texture supplies material for repeated viewing. The patterns that swirl over their surfaces vary from baroque flourishes, as in the title composition (Coming to Light) to floral forms (for example, the dense and brilliant red Harmony) to all manner of tightly woven variants of both that are built up in crisscrossing layers. In many of the panels the artist has used a pointed instrument or the end tip of her brush to literally carve the patterns into the warm wax surfaces—one of the benefits of working with encaustic. The medium can also be layered on so thickly that (as in East Meets West #41) it resembles a relief with impressed or fossilized plant forms visible just below the topmost layer.
A number of the paintings in this exhibit come from a series called East Meets West and are numbered, while all the rest have evocative, poetic or spiritual sounding titles that were certainly added after their making. The series title would connote the merging of Eastern textile patterns with Western designs like French curves and the like, and the results are both attractive and intriguing. Many look a bit like ancient Roman tiles, that is, like archaeological remains of some buried city. Some have dark smooth surfaces (e.g. East Meets West #11) while others are light-toned and roughened. The color range of these paintings is also remarkable: from the blues and greens of Coming to Light or the delicate tones of East Meets West #39 to the brilliant yellows and reds of Sacred Space or East Meets West#28. Among my favorites are the panels in which White uses gold leaf accents to travel across the layers of color beneath them.
A particularly beautiful example of this is her Sublime Chaos, a slightly larger panel at 8” x 10”. Here, the layers are transparent, each one visible through the next from the neutral base, through the green circular swirls, followed by the brilliant blue trails that contrast brilliantly with the gold patterning above. The result looks at once Turkish or Dutch, a true exemplar of the global sensibility that is the artist’s intent. Hung in the hall space across from the small gallery that presently holds Alonzo Davis’ Migrant Series, they too speak of distance and travel and far-off or very intimate places.
Coming to Light: Encaustics by Angela White, Rachel Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center, NOVA, 4915 East Campus Drive, Alexandria, VA 22311. Through April 21st. For more information, email gallery director Mary Higgins (firstname.lastname@example.org).