One of the highlights of any group exhibition opening reception is the taking of a photograph of all the participants together. When “Crossroads: 4 Perspectives,” opened on October 10 at the Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Gallery at Worcester State University, Patricia Gerkin was in Italy on a short vacation with her husband. A few days later, Debra Claffey would be in New Orleans attending Golden Paint’s Artist Educator Training Program, learning about their paints, grounds and mediums, Donna Hamil Talman in Marseille, France, and only Charyl Weissbach was at her normal workspace in Boston.
The four make up the Elemental artist collaborative, the members of which first met through New England Wax, a group started in 2006 for New England artists working with wax. Finding a commonality, they set out to find opportunities for exhibitions for just the four of them. “We spent a good deal of time, talking, writing, and exploring our commonalities and our differences in themes, styles and materials,” Claffey said. “We discovered that we have a common passion for ecological issues. It was wonderful that we each had a focus on a particular part of the many environmental issues right from the start.”
That environmental angle made hosting the “Crossroads: 4 Perspectives” exhibition attractive to Catherine Wilcox-Titus, the Dolphin Gallery’s director and a professor of art at Worcester State University. “I share the artists’ concern for our survival on the planet, since the consequences of a warming climate are happening faster than we thought, and these effects are compounding in unpredictable ways.” While work aimed to convey political sentiments sometimes fall short, Wilcox-Titus said, these paintings also manage to maintain a very high standard of aesthetic content. “They are beautifully done and very original in the mixed media that they use — metal, marble, delicate papers, and Donna’s ‘Frutti di Mare’ is presented in a way that projects waves across the wall and makes beautiful shadows.”
Wilcox-Titus wanted WSU s tudents to have the opportunity to see encaustic work up close, as it hadn’t been presented in a group setting there before, and it also provided them with the chance to meet the artists in person. Indeed, standing next to Gerkin’s “I Was Beautiful Once” allows close examination of her work, each marking showing growth the same way the veins of a leaf do. It comes from her “Life Cycles” series that she’s been working on the past two and a half years. It is, she said, based on primarily one leaf that is in the process of aging and dying.
“I zoom in on different aspects of that leaf and create an abstract painting from it,” Gerkin said. “The series is informed by a Japanese aesthetic called mono no aware, an aesthetic that is characterized by the pathos of things. It honors and respects and appreciates more deeply the passage of time, the impermanence of all living things, and by extension, the aging and dying process.”