Miscellaneous Uproar marks Harmony Padgett’s solo début at William Campbell Contemporary Art in Fort Worth. Padgett’s work employs both drawing and painting, each often operating independently of the other, though all of the works in the show are oil and ink on wood panel. Padgett uses very simple means in these works: she lays down wide, sweeping brushstrokes with colored oil paint first, then overlays them with wandering inked lines, which create a mash-up of automatic drawing and abstract expressionist painting. She’s using gesture, mark-making, color and implied movement to connect with emotion.
“I do all painting first, then drawing over the top,” she says. “The interaction between the areas of paint and the lines are mostly left up to chance.”
The wide brushstrokes in the works are created with a broom, and the individual bristles leave their own linear pathways that amplify the painting process. “There was a thrilling feeling of watching the broom strokes happen on the surface,” Padgetts says. “All the bristles working together, changing directions, the occasional stray lines that diverged from the group, the spaces in between the bristles that are left bare of paint that show the wood. I am a very detail-oriented person, so the subtle nuances are of particular interest.” She adds: “My use of a broom started as purely experimental. I was looking for the broadest brush I could find; the idea of a broom that could clean, yet is used to apply material rather than to remove, I find amusing. A subtle sarcasm.”
Padgett’s succinct titles convey her attitude, if the color and gesture are not obvious enough. Not only does the swirl of vivid purple color create a focal area in Vamp, but Padgett reinforced the inked lines in the same area so that they’re darker and thicker than the other lines on the panel. Regarding her titles, Padgett says, “I try to play with language. Words and phrases that are cliché, or that have a variety of meaning and interpretation based on the context of their use add to the abstract nature of the work.”
Padgett says of Braggadocious, “I tried to be conscious of the contrast the colors create on the wood surface and the activation of the surface of the panels with the color.”
Brash is a virtual cacophony of color and emotion, yet the attendant linear structure provides an anchor to manage conflicting emotions. “There was an exuberance of emotion, physically, for me while making them,” Padgett says. “It was difficult to restrain myself, at times, to make only the necessary brushstrokes.”
Fringe strongly contrasts with the colorful exuberance of the preceding works. It’s subdued, almost contemplative in its simple mark-making and monochromatic color. But the piece isn’t static, as the vigorous brushwork creates a path of motion that corrals the amoeba-like drawn shapes.
While Padgett’s work appears non-objective, a splotch of pink color may reinforce a suggestion of a figural contour, or simply provide a focal point that ties the two parts of the diptych together. “My work has been based in figurative abstraction for a long time, Padgett says. “I work to be sure the drawings are a total abstraction of anything recognizable. The lines have origins related to the figure, nature, architecture, biology, shadows, negative spaces. It is a layering and combining of disparate parts. I omit any information that may be representative, but the drawings are still at times suggestive of recognizable imagery.”
Convoluted lines cross and recross themselves, and the duality created by light and dark inked lines recurs in most of the pieces. Padgett says that she employs a mixture of automatic and blind contour, and a layering of line drawings. This is evident in Nailed It.
In Fool’s Paradise, Padgett employs three tonalities in the varying lightness and darkness of the inked lines, giving a sense of spatial depth to the work. “Much like the brushstrokes, I aim for an energetic quality in the line drawings. Organic forms rapidly changing direction, combined with long, sometimes angular or geometric shapes intermingle with the color to create new abstract areas.”
Also reinforcing the sense of three-dimensional space is the continuation of lines and color onto the wide side edges of the wood panel, as seen in Tidal and Tickle. Padgett constructs her own panels: “By the time I get to the point of applying the paint, I’ve already spent hours constructing the pieces. I enjoy the building part of the process; it is very calculated. The paintings process itself is very spontaneous.”
Hold On seems characteristic of the playful randomness of Padgett’s imagery, which she describes as “managed explosions” of mark making. Padgett says her paintings can suggest the “everyday range of emotions” that we all experience, as well as the “distractions, obligations, and limitations” that continuously affect our existence.
“In general,” she says, “I would say that my work is a combination of controlled experimentation and chance… an exploration of the relationship between something and nothing.”
Harmony Padgett: Miscellaneous Uproar, through March 12 at William Campbell Contemporary Art, Fort Worth