Artist Statement for Cornelia White Swann: fugitive color I


Moving away from synthetic materials, this new series Fugitive Color begins the exploration of natural pigments in my work and studio practice. This curiosity in pigments stems from a life-long interest in plants converging with my love of painting. I eagerly started this series with a limited foundation and vocabulary for a process that has a history both rich and vast. Working with plants to source pigment is a slow process, heavily dependent on the environment and time. While I’ve always felt that my work pertained to the subtleties of these elements, I was no longer led by my own timelines, but those of the seasons, a welcome and surprising challenge to my studio practice. 

Depending on the amount of exposure to light, the color derived from plants evolves over time. The vivid colors of purple and magenta hues of blueberries and pomegranates slowly turn to ambers and greys. Observing this natural process, my first inclination was to find a solution to stop or delay the reaction. After many years of being concerned (and being told to be concerned) with the archival-ness of my work on paper, it was a gut reaction to “save” the work. It was a reaction which inevitably led me back to the urge to return to synthetic paint, the medium I put aside to explore the natural process of making my own paint. In order to continue this series, I realized that I must accept the process, to accept the fugitive nature of this color. And in that realization, I was able to continue to explore and enjoy the natural evolution of color happening in front of me. The paintings on exhibit were created within the last six months to show the beginning of this process. The works have been photographed and will periodically be photographed to document the change in color.   

Guiding my initial research were the books and blogs of fiber artists who continue the tradition of natural dying with found plant material. I was inspired by their knowledge and process of sourcing color for fabric and wool from seasonal plants. I followed the work of New York artist, Ellie Irons, who sources invasive plant species for pigments. A turning point in my research and practice came when I discovered artists working with anthotypes, an alternative photo process that uses the light-sensitive nature of plant material for emulsion and sunlight to expose an image on paper. Their use of paper and pigment was closest to my own studio practice. For a historical perspective on the use of pigment I read, Color: The Natural History of the Palette, a travelogue whose author researched and traveled to various geographic locations to explore the history of pigments across the world.                                                

In past work, the formal language I used to describe my abstract paintings reflected my interest in color, organic forms intersecting with the hard lines of shapes that eventually evolved into a gesture thick with paint and intention. I compared my work to desire paths as I always work on the floor, the movement of the paint often relied on the slight slopes and bumps of the surface beneath the paper, the striations of paint emerged, indications of time gone by. I studied the ideas behind psychogeography, how people move and relate to spaces around them. A favorite book, Spaces and Places by Yi Fu Tuan, was a constant reference for my previous work. I feel that the Fugitive Color series is a natural progression from these ideas as the elements that are constant are my love of color and working with subtle environmental phenomena beyond my control.

Cornelia White Swann: Fugitive Color II opens Saturday, March 12, 2016 and remains on view through Saturday, April 30, 2016. Cornelia White Swann: Fugitive Color I opened in spring 2015. 

For more information on the exhibition or to schedule a private viewing of the artwork, e-mail Exhibition catalogue for Cornelia White Swann: Fugitive Color available for pre-order.

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Image: Cornelia White Swann, Drifting Away, 2014. Elderberry, red onion on paper.