East City Art Reviews—Mary Early Līnea Studies

By Eric Celarier on June 2, 2022
Mary Early: Līnea Studies, Installation View, Photo Credit: Gallery 2112

Mary Early’s exhibition Līnea Studies asks viewers to reconsider the front interior of the Dupont Circle row house that comprises Gallery 2112. The highlight of the show is Early’s sculpture of suspended beeswax rods, Līnea XII, which not only commands interest unto itself, but also opens up many possibilities for the Victorian parlor in which it is placed. In addition to connecting to the myriad of vertical and horizontal lines associated with this period of architecture, Early’s curtain of slender cast beeswax forms occasionally bathes the room with an amber sheen as the midday light shines through the bay windows. Thus, this gallery is not just a stage for the work; it is part of the work.

Describing her intentions, Early writes, “Each architectural space has its own unique proportions, directing viewers to pay attention to the nuance of the space they are in—something often unnoticed or unobserved. For example, the hanging lines in the window draw attention to the curve of the bay and the proportion of the windows. I’m drawn to architectural spaces with gravity and solidity, no matter whether they are aged and worn or polished and new.” (1) Echoing the rhythm of such features as the molding, the radiators, and the window panes, Early’s construction bonds to its environment, a bond made even stronger by the shadows it casts when it eclipses the sun that passes through it.

Mary Early, Līnea XII, 2022, beeswax and cotton, 120” x 48” x 12”, Photo Credit: Gallery 2112

Accompanying Līnea XII are a series of untitled studies on paper and wood, setting up a dialogue among differing objects within the room. Early writes, “The drawings are a way of working something out or diagramming a composition, they do not ‘have’ to be made into something in real space.” (2)  So, we should not think of them as plans, but as alternative arrangements of elements that inform her sculptural works generally. Elaborating, Early writes, “The drawings/studies in the show are a body of work representing a larger spatial concept, rather than a single finished work or installation.” (3)

While these graphics might help us understand the thinking behind her installations, they hold up as aesthetic objects in their own right. Made with graphite, oil stick, and sumi ink, they are too refined to be undervalued as mere research. Early summarizes them in this way, “The studies on view have evolved over the years to become their own finished works. They are meant to elicit a response to the repetition and underlying grid structure of the drawing in relation to my three-dimensional compositions. The wash of sumi ink started as a way to provide some depth, and a sense of space beyond a blank page. The wash ends up becoming its own event, the evaporation of water creates a composition that I do not control.” (4)

Untitled (Study for Līnea) 2021.112 is a particularly good example of her handling of this graphic media. Made with a network of yellow lines that stand out from clouds of diluted ink, this drawing evokes a possible assemblage of its three-dimensional counterparts without having to be instructions for one. Throughout the exhibition, we can see Early developing different permutations of these lattice designs on paper which allow us to compare variations.  In whatever way these renderings might inform her sculptural work, we can be sure Early is exercising the same sensibilities of line, shape and color in both.

Mary Early, Untitled (Study for Līnea), 2021.112, graphite, wax crayon, sumi ink on Fabriano Paper, 29.5” x 41.25”, Photo Credit: Mary Early

Though much of the show is dedicated to the power of perpendicular geometry, Early has included one sculpture outside her orthodoxy of straight lines. Untitled (circle) is a throwback to past aspects of her practice, shedding light on her evolution as an artist. Early explains in her gallery statement that she used to work with armatures, like the wood, to support the wax, but has moved on, preferring to recast the same wax over and over. In her own words, “My fascination lies with the transformation of materials, and over the years, I have worked with different armatures and structures to support the wax. Now I have abandoned armatures in favor of a component that can be indefinitely deployed, remelted, and recycled for future use.” (5)  By including Untitled (circle), 2012 in this exhibit, the artist is tracking the transformation from earlier iterations of her work to the newer, modular ones on view here, like Līnea XII.

Mary Early, Untitled (circle), 2012, wood and beeswax, 32” diameter x 1”, Photo Credit: Gallery 2112

When asked directly, Early writes that there is no one way to understand her work, leaving it up to the viewer to decide. There is no equivocation in, “It is open to interpretation.” (6) As Early is an artist with conceptual links to post-Minimalist thinking, we should probably expect a declaration like this. Līnea Studies calls attention to the places that we construct by intervening within them. By directing our movement, our lines of sight, and our orientation within buildings, Early focuses us on overlooked spaces that we might value less in our haste to operate within them.

However, she may also be leading us to another of her intentions by expressing the importance of reuse and responsible sourcing of her materials. As an outside observer making my own judgements, anyone working with beeswax is employing a media with gravitas. Given the alarming decline in bee populations which we rely so heavily on for, at the very least, our food, beeswax is not just any building material.  While in the presence of one Early’s constructions I cannot help but be personally reminded of how intertwined our relationship is with the other species with which we share this planet—the smell alone does that for me. What is refreshing about this work is that it does not tell me how to feel or what to do, but allows me a chance to reflect upon my place in the world; literally, in the architecture of a room and spiritually, as a fellow creature of the earth.

Līnea Studies can be seen at Gallery 2112 through June 11. Gallery Hours are Friday-Saturday 12-5 and by appointment, Gallery 2112 is located at 2112 R St NW, Washington, DC 20008.  Open Friday-Saturday 12-5 and by appointment. Contact the gallery at (202) 213-9768 or  info@gallery2112.com. www.gallery2112.com

 


  1. Quotation taken from direct communication with the artist for this article.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Quotation taken from the exhibition descriptions
  6. Quotation taken from direct communication with the artist for this article.