Something lies under every surface in Jennifer Omaitz's series of oil paintings presented in Above Ground, Beneath the Surface, her new show currently on display at 1point618 Gallery.
Blocky shapes — even ideas — are layered atop one another so deeply that you'll never be sure you've found the bottom.
"I was layering surfaces of information to make it feel like there was no end," says Omaitz, a 32-year-old Kent State and CIA-trained painter who finds inspiration in modernist architecture and landscape.
Like the pieces themselves, the show's title works on multiple levels: It refers to the buildings and rolling geological formations from which she takes her visual cues — structures whose visible façades are supported by unseen foundations. But it's also about the process of painting, during which the artist struggles to define her own sense of control.
The 16 paintings in the show were all created in the last six months. After working for years in sculpture installations, Omaitz strove to expand her two-dimensional paintings into 3D. "Abstraction can be hard to enter," she says. "Architecture gives an entrance."
In "Small Urban Environment" (pictured), a blue cube hovers steadily in the foreground. Behind it, half-formed polygons roil and tumble in a storm of white and sepia. We are tempted to think the cube is steady and calm. But on its far right face, we see that it's hollow, and that sepia and white disorder reigns inside it too.
In "Geode," an ivory and chocolate block protrudes from an off-center point of the canvas, seemingly trying to dominate the piece; but behind it, two vertical planes intersect, forming the joint of two walls. For all its pretensions to supremacy, the block itself is contained by a bigger cube.
The paintings can be appreciated simply as relations of forms and colors. But on another level, they are allegories of Omaitz's experience of painting. She departs from her past techniques by not making sketches beforehand. Instead, she simply starts working and responds to the painting as it happens.
Not just her conscious intentions, but her automatic responses to the emerging work and bodily motions contribute to the final piece. In this way, the painter herself is shown to be a thing made of layers, some of them more obvious than others.
Omaitz and artist-critic Douglas Max Utter will present a talk and Q&A on Thursday, April 12, starting with a reception at 5:30 p.m. The exhibition runs through April 29 at 6421 Detroit Avenue. To learn more, call 216-281-1618 or go to 1point618gallery.com.