The works of Grace DeGennaro and Brece Honeycutt currently on display in the exhibition “Woven Mysteries” at Aucocisco Galleries in Portland have an immediate effect on each other.
For starters, the literal folds of Honeycutt’s work put the binary logic of DeGennaro’s paintings in the folded context of mirror imagery. Conversely, DeGennaro’s tight connection to painting and abstraction echoes back on Honeycutt’s work, and casts her folded creases as Modernist grids and elements of postwar American painting.
Superficially, their work is extremely divergent. DeGennaro’s paintings are tight, highly finished and geometrically mathematical, and feel like they are based on ideal forms rather than nature. Honeycutt’s work, on the other hand, is brazenly handmade, organic, loose and Earth-mother feminine.
DeGennaro’s images most superficially resemble sacred mandalas. “Mandala” means “circle” in Sanskrit, but it’s a better word than the Western term for a circular painting — “tondo” — because mandala implies the radial logic of the image, and DeGennaro’s work is completely immersed within the terms of circular symmetry.
The plurality of DeGennaro’s new work features pairs of circles, one above the other, defined by an almost floral form over which are situated concentric circles of dots. The dots tend to alternate colors within a circle (although my favorite piece, “Vestment Study #4,” has more complex rhythms developed among four colors) and then between the vertical pair of larger circles.
The circular forms and dots are rendered in watercolor on vertically situated 30-by-22-inch Arches paper. Ironically, it is through the use of the stencil that the floral forms develop an organic feel, because the paint tends to gather at the edges. This is a subtle point, but “organic” is not defined by difference, but rather by a flowing and casually metered regularity.
The rosette has been valued since antiquity, so DeGenarro is not overtly referencing any specific religion through this form. However, her newest works all relate to a Celtic cross that is the result of negative space from the “vesica piscis” (the almond shape resulting in the intersection of two circles) that drove her work previously.
While these forms are key Christian motifs, DeGennaro’s work over time hints that her sensibilities are driven by visual cues rather than the fortification of her own cultural ramparts.
In general, we read too much into symbolic bits we find in paintings; sometimes, as Freud pointed out, a cigar is just a cigar. In DeGennaro’s work, I think the symbols are building blocks to achieve something else, rather than some backward-looking cage intended to contain the meaning. In fact, her syncretistic approach seems to root out the iconological complexity in favor of unmediated mystical mystery.
HONEYCUTT’S WORK is less about the physical relationship of the viewer to the image and more about the contemplation of a handmade, historical object.
While I think DeGennero’s works are extraordinarily elegant and beautiful paintings, I can’t say the same about Honeycutt’s — nor would she want me to. They are pieces of thick paper that have been folded and submersed in natural dyes to capture the shapes of leaves used in a dye printing process.
The result is akin to a thick piece of paper you might have left in your pocket for a week and maybe even ran through the wash. Yet Honeycutt uses this distressed complexity as the basis for her later, artistically conscious interventions with a brush as well as needle and thread.
I see Honeycutt’s work as mirroring historical perspective, wherein she has little control in the foundational processes and only has more of an active role in the most recent and most visible actions. That she relates her pieces to processes traditionally associated with “women’s work” — sewing, knitting, dying, textiles, etc. — adds a sense of herself to the work as well as historical context and perspective.
Somehow, this comes across in the loosely organic aesthetic of the work that seems to challenge you very quietly with a question along the lines of “what’s going on here” rather than with some pugnaciously shrill accusation or polemic.
Honeycutt and DeGennaro make for an excellent and interesting pairing, because their work shares enough common ground as a starting point and yet in the end diverges wildly. It is a thoughtful and interesting show.
Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]