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Elise Wagner
Butters Gallery, Portland, Oregon
Recommendation by Richard Speer

Elise Wagner, "Territory Chart I," 2014, encaustic and oil on panel, 30 x 30".

Continuing through August 2, 2014

Painter Elise Wagner has long been fascinated by the dueling impulses toward the rationality and wonderment with which we study the stars. Her paintings, which integrate oil paint, glazes, and encaustic medium, are vivid re-imaginings of antiquarian astral maps. But in this new body of work, entitled "Uncharted Territories," she incorporates a new compositional and thematic strategy:  the counter positioning of celestial and terrestrial imagery. 

In her "Opposing Cartography" series of joined diptychs, stars cluster atop inky-black firmament, enveloped in a nimbus of misty sfumato as if glimpsed through the nighttime haze of city lights.  The black-and-gold palette, deployed on the left-hand side of each work, contrasts with the sand and clay tones on the panels to their right.  The panels on the left are pure oil paintings, while those on the right incorporate encaustic medium and textural ridges that evoke desert landscapes viewed from the air. The contrasting panels are conjoined by inset wooden dividers — a material and thematic bridge suggesting that ethereal and earthly concerns are more integrated, less dichotomous, than we typically imagine.

A recurring motif in Wagner’s work — symbols that evoke runes or alchemical notation — appears in pieces such as "Territory Chart III" and "Territory Chart I," the latter of which concentrates its subject matter within a powerful pictorial framing device. Suffusing the exhibition is a reverence for both the rigor and the romanticism of charting land and heavens. It is as if the artist views distinctions between physical and metaphysical, astronomical and astrological as altogether moot.

Butters Gallery

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