Signe Stuart: Fifteen

For the last two years I’ve been at the Museum, I’ve featured abstract art in several of the RMAC’s exhibits, as I think it’s important that visitors engage with it. While abstract art may not represent something we would normally see in our everyday lives, we can still appreciate its use of formal qualities such as line, shape, or color. Such is the reasoning behind our latest exhibit, Signe Stuart: Fifteenwhich opened on October 2nd in Hunter Gallery.

Based in Santa Fe, Signe Stuart creates paintings, works on paper, mixed media constructions, and installations. Signe Stuart: Fifteen is a visual meditation on the changes and continuities that have shaped her investigations. This show is not a comprehensive retrospective, but instead highlights fifteen works created in fifteen different years, allowing visitors to explore some of the changes and continuities that have shaped her work through time.  

Construction for Line IX, 1963, acrylic on wire-sewn canvas, 48" x 48". Collection of the artist.

Watershed 2, 2011, acrylic on acrylic (Plexiglas), 12" x 48". Collection of the artist.
I've known Stuart since 2013; she was actually one of the first artists I met after I arrived at the Museum, so it's been very satisfying to finally be able to show her work here. Interestingly enough, her husband, Joseph Stuart, was the director of the Roswell Museum during the early 1960s, and they both have colorful memories of this town during that time. The RMAC also has two of Stuart's works in the collection, one of which, Sleepwave, was featured in one of the very first shows I curated at the RMAC, Subject to Change. Stuart is greatly impressed with the growth and development that has taken place in the Museum over the last several decades, and is excited to show her work here 

Anyway, let's talk more about Stuart and her work.

Nexus 3, 2012, acrylic on reconstructed Chinese unryu paper, 34 3/4" x 63 1/2". Collection of the artist.
The natural world is her greatest influence. For several years she lived and worked as an art professor in Brookings, South Dakota, where she was deeply influenced by the landscapes of the Badlands and other regions. After relocating to Santa Fe in the 1990s, her work began incorporating the palette and textures of her New Mexico environsStuart’s interest in nature also extends to its most fundamental processes. Subatomic vibrations, electromagnetic waves of light and sound, fields of energy, and other phenomena that are invisible but essential to life as we know it deeply inform her work, with the underlying structure of her pieces becoming as significant as their surface appearance. 

Incidents 1 (detail), 2002, acrylic and sumi ink on unryu paper, 11" x 60'. Collection of the artist.

Wall, 2004-2006, collaged Rives and assorted papers, 8'7" x 13'10". Collection of the artist.
In addition to the natural world, Stuart has found inspiration in other art forms, particularly in Japanese art. Many of her paper-based works use traditional Chinese and Japanese materials such as mulberry and unryu paper and sumi ink, or adapt forms such as folding screens and hand scrolls in order to explore the passage of real and imagined time. 

Continuum, 2000, acrylic on collaged and perforated mulberry paper, 75" x 24.5". Collection of the artist.
 The most striking quality of Stuart’s work, however, is the way in which it interacts with the viewer. Often designed to hang at eye level, her pieces project a human quality. Pieces that incorporate Plexiglas into their compositions even reflect our own faces back to us, offering us our own representations through the lens of the painted image. Stuart’s abstract work may not appear overtly anthropomorphic, but it nonetheless exudes a human character by recreating the circumstances of face-to-face interaction. Such communication requires physical elements such as the body, gesture, and eye contact, but it is the incorporeal qualities of personality that infuse such exchanges with humanity. 

Similarly, Stuart’s art comes into existence through canvas, paper, and plastic, but it is the shadows, openings, and empty spaces that both enhance the work’s physicality and pull us in as viewers. When we engage her art, we participate in a visual conversation that uses textures, colors, and shadows rather than words.  

Signe Stuart: Fifteen will be on view in Hunter Gallery until March 20, 2016. If you're in the area, come check out.