Patterns of Perception

“Elegant Integuments: Perception, Patterns, and Seeing Anew in Covering Ground

Dr. Betty Brown, Art Historian and Art Critic, 2011

“Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty — beneath its covering — that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.”
— Fra Giovanni Giocondo (1433-1515)

An integument is the protective layer around an ovule that becomes the seed coat. The term also can refer to the outer layer or cover of an animal, such as skin or cuticle. These paintings are elegant integuments, fragile layers of beauty covering fragments of each painter's aesthetic perceptions.

2. Covering Perceptual Patterns
Barbara Kerwin deploys geometric abstraction for two goals that, at first, might seem antithetical. The first is conscious allusion to the art historical roots of the rectangular grid. High Modern artist Kasimir Malevich deployed the abstract grid as a new form of spiritual expression, stripping painting of its representational precedents, much as his more militant compatriots had sought to strip Russia of her oppressive social institutions (the Church, the aristocracy, private property.) More recently, Agnes Martin also used the grid as the foundation for her spiritually infused oeuvre. Writing in her adopted home of Taos, New Mexico, Martin asserted,

“My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind…I think our minds respond to things beyond this world. Take beauty: it's a very mysterious thing, isn't it? I think it's a response in our minds to perfection. It's too bad, people not realizing that their minds expand beyond this world.” 2

Like Martin, Kerwin creates paintings that point beyond the visible world. They function as quiet meditations on balance, harmony, beauty, and the enduring order of the universe.

Kerwin also uses her current body of work to explore the meanings and perceptions of gold. She is painfully aware of the world economic crisis, of the inequities of the haves and the have-nots, and how these inequities affect our individual sense of security. The golden bars that march across the canvases can function as symbols of the basis for our financial exchange system. The shimmering shapes that appear to shift and float over the composition can be related to the uncontrolled rise and fall of monetary value. Finally, Reign can be understood as a pun, referring both to dominion (gold is often called “the king of currencies”) and the fact that short vertical lines over the surface appear to “rain” down.

Beyond the conceptual references to the modernist grid and gold as an economic force, Kerwin's paintings have an exquisite visual presence. Shimmering in translucent levels of metallic and opalescent sheen, they radiate a jewel-like beauty. And intriguingly, their glistening surfaces remain as elusive as wealth, shifting and changing as light coruscates over them.