Prima Materia or Primal Matter is a term for the starting material for all things – matter that is fundamental and profound — which alchemists seek in order to actuate their alchemical transformations. The primal matter – sometimes referred to as the “Philosopher’s Stone”- is so valued as an idea that it has been reframed to sit in many belief systems, including Christianity – drafted in during the Renaissance by the Swiss physician and botanist Paracelsus; Paracelsus was also the first proponent of the scientific method of empiricism. Most agree that earth, air, fire and water are essential ingredients in primal matter. According to “The Mystica,” an on-line encyclopedia of the occult, certain colors are also important characterizations of the material: melanosis (blackening), leukosis (whitening), xanthosis (yellowing), and iosis (reddening) – the blackness symbolizing the initial state of chaos, out of which came everything.
If the three artists, Marianne Van Lent, Augustus Goertz and Brian Wood, exhibiting at Cross Contemporary Art, 81 Partition St. in Saugerties during the month of March share an interest in these elemental concerns and colors, Marianne Van Lent has made the visualization of the primal matter her own. Her work seeks to capture the transcendence between the spiritual and material worlds. She is concerned with this alchemical quest for transformation in her work and in nature. The work contains recurring motifs such as: vessel or vas shapes, cell-like clusters, spinning entities, vapors, and mists. She has achieved interesting and complimentary opposites in the same works – many manage to combine the monumentalism of landscape while also enveloping one in the intimacy of microorganisms. Technically all her paintings employ fresco secco and suspended pigment on canvas so have a very tactile quality. Van Lent is a dual resident of the Hudson River town of Athens and the lower west side of Manhattan. Holding an MFA from Cornell University, she has exhibited widely in the US and Europe.
All three artists make work where the perspectives in the pieces are ambiguous and keep the viewer on a virtiginous edge. The scale of Augustus Goertz’s canvases shifts from aerial to terrestrial, from the vast sweep of a landscape to the miniaturization of a child’s toy. They involve a building of texture and pigment creating a hybrid sculptural surface – a topographical surface in fact. This construction allows the nuances of changing light to participate in the experience of the artwork. These paradoxical references give the viewer a distinct sensation of swinging from one reality to the next through an environment at once infinitely large and minute. Goertz’s work has been exhibited widely in the US and abroad, most recently in Seoul, South Korea.
Brian Wood’s colorful, biological shapes create their own luminosity in the darkness of the canvas – and what a sense of color he has. Again, it is not clear if we are encountering massive planetary movements, minute atomic reactions or intimate bodily sensations. The world of Wood’s paintings is one that is pulled and stretched as though elastic, as though it has been sucked through a black hole and reassembled on the other side, but with recognizable forms intact: claws; birds’ talons; a beak; a hand mirror, so that we know we’re still on earth. Mr. Wood, a Guggenheim Fellow, is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum among many other distinguished public and private collections.
The exhibition is on view through March 27, 2016 at:
Cross Contemporary Art, 81 Partition St., Saugerties, NY 12477.
Hours: Thursdays — Mondays, 12 — 6 pm, and Wednesday by appointment.
Opening reception on Saturday March 5 from 6―8pm.
For further information, call the Gallery Director on 845 – 399-9751:
or visit the website: http://www.crosscontemporaryart.com and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/crosscontemporaryart/
Featured Image: Neverland. Marianne Van Lent, Fresco secco and pigments on canvas
All images are courtesy of the artists.
Claire Lambe is an Irish born painter whose works have been exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic; she is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and holds an MFA in painting from the City University of New York. Writing credits include contributing author to Teen Life in Europe (part of the Teen Life Around The World series), and articles and reviews for this publication. Claire Lambe’s art work can be seen here: