Friday, November 7, 2014

Studio visit with Wendy Orville

To say that Wendy Orville is a bit of a sky-gazer, is probably an understatement.  Wendy’s studio walls are tiled with photographs in which the camera’s lens was most often pointed skyward.  You’ll find images of rivers and marshes and other bodies of water that capture the sky’s reflection, but mostly, it’s all about the sky.  Wendy finds the ever-shifting light and clouds mesmerizing and the immensity of the sky profound.

Framed monotypes in Wendy's studio.

Having moved from the expansive landscape and saturated blue skies of northern New Mexico to the misty forests of the Puget Sound region about 20 years ago, Wendy was struck by the sense of being enveloped by tall evergreen trees and dense cloud cover.  Here, the sky is less readily accessible, but more nuanced.  You have to seek it out, finding openings in canopies and cloud cover, or to access it at the edges, the seaside or on mountaintops.

I joined Wendy in her Bainbridge Island studio in early September.  Outside it was grey and wet, but her workspace was bright, warm and welcoming, much like Wendy herself.  A painter turned printmaker, the centerpiece of her studio is an etching press that she uses to make monotypes.  Around the perimeter are glass slabs for rolling out ink, brayers, ink cans and cotton rag paper.  In addition to printing, Wendy spends a considerable amount of time photographing and drawing.  Working across media allows Wendy to study the forms and relationships between shape and value in particular clouds and skies. 

Wendy adjusting her Takach etching press in preparation for printing a monotype.
The monotype plate in progress.
Wendy’s prints appear deceptively simple and viewers often mistake them for black and white photographs.  These people are not looking closely enough, and, they are most certainly missing out. 
Wendy begins to draw into an inked plate.
Her prints are built from many layers of rolling gradations of black ink across plexiglass plates, blotting, wiping and scraping ink and then re-rolling.  Wendy repeats this process several times before printing the plate.  The sense of depth and atmosphere that she creates is astounding.  You may find Wendy’s work to be quiet or contemplative with a soft poetry.  At the same time, her images are bold.  They hold great weight.  Her prints are about power and mystery and the very depth of being able to feel the wind rustle through your hair or the sudden coolness as a cloud casts a momentary shadow across a section of your arm.

Norie Sato, Edged Out (1982)
When we visited, Wendy had already completed her response to Norie Sato’s Edged Out (1982) from the Museum of Northwest Art’s collection: a pair of black and white monotypes entitled Sky Diptych (2014).  She found the process of working in dialogue with another work of art to be both stimulating and meaningful.  At the same time, the experience was a challenge.  Or, perhaps, it was this particular piece?  When Wendy was first introduced to Edged Out she asked me why we had chosen it for her.  I watched her as she looked at the piece, wrestling with how she might respond and it took her some time to connect with it in a way that she could generate new work that was both her own and in dialogue.  She identified the idea of ‘breath’ to be the connection between the two.  There is also a suggestion of anchors and borders that the two works share.  I wonder if these compositional elements function as something to hold the breath in the picture plane?  Or, perhaps, to stand firmly in place to contrast the fluidity of both breath and light?
Wendy Orville, Sky Diptych (2014)  (Photograph by Art Grice)

As we were looking at Sky Diptych Wendy asked me what I thought of it as a response to Sato’s print.  We looked at a small digital image of Edged Out and I think that I said something along the lines of ‘great!’ or ‘interesting’  (well, I think that I had more to say than that. . .), but it wasn’t until I unwrapped Wendy’s prints at MoNA and leaned them up against the wall next to Sato’s work that I really got it.  The two works breath in unison.  Or, perhaps they are exchanging the same breath, back and forth as though they are exchanging the sky.  It’s really quite moving.  You must go to La Conner and see the two works together.  The museum is open every day of the week—you have until January 4th—get going!

Wendy does consider herself a Northwest artist.  Her work is about living here and responding to the place that she lives in an unselfconscious way.  She is especially drawn to spaces with a vast and expansive feeling and she finds those here in Port Townsend and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The light, landscape and solitude of these places feed her. 

Finally, I asked Wendy which she preferred: alone or together?  Both.  Wendy seeks out a balance between having solitude and also feeling connected to those around her.

Wendy Orville is represented by Davidson Galleries in Seattle, WA.

You can find out more about Wendy and her work on her website:

If you are interested in learning more about making monotypes, Wendy offers workshops in her Bainbridge Island studio.

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