“There’s all kinds of life-experiences that come to one unasked-for,” said sculptor and painter Marjorie Minkin while showing me her light-filled Lexan relief sculptures one November evening on her Waltham studio wall. We are discussing her approaching exhibition at the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse on Fan Pier in Boston Harbor. Skins of translucent polycarbonate dance on the white wall, their lines, shadows, reflections and rills of color overlapping. Migrating to the curved brick wall of the Courthouse’s Atrium Gallery, they will face a huge, impending tsunami — a four-story, curved glass curtain wall that opens onto a glorious northerly view of Boston’s Inner Harbor. Minkin expects her Lexans will behave quite differently when backed by the rusty textures of New England water-struck brick and illuminated by the vagaries of sun, sky and sea. But what she doesn’t know is how.
The Abstract Expressionist painter Barnett Newman once quipped: “Sculpture is what you bump into when you back up to see a painting.” Minkin hardly foresaw that she would become a sculptor. Always skeptical of surface appearances, she had studied philosophy and hoped to explore quantum physics’ understanding of change and time. Boston University accepted her as a Ph.D. candidate but, citing the misogynistic policy of the 1960s, refused to give her the financial support of a teaching fellowship. Minkin quit to pursue her curiosity about color at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She was awarded a Fifth Year Traveling Fellowship on the strength of her by then abstract color-field-style painting.
Having seen Morris Louis’s “Unfurled” paintings — giant expanses of poured paint on raw canvas — at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Minkin was astonished by their gestural fluidity. Louis’s vibrant ripples reminded her of healing hours spent, during a childhood marked by early loss and impaired vision, wandering the beaches near Boston and observing the waves and currents in the changing light.