Most people paint objects. Katherine Josten paints the space between objects.
— Michael Boyle, Arizona Illustrated, KUAT-TV, Tucson Arizona
Katherine Josten’s paintings have an uncanny iconic presence.
— Margaret Regan, Tucson Weekly
Davis Dominguez Gallery, Tucson, Arizona
Titled Origins, this exhibit is a rare gallery showing for Tucson artist Katherine Josten, who has been working on this installation project since the 1980’s. Although some of the paintings are recent, most date from the last 20 – 25 years. Her vision has produced a large body of black and white paintings in sizes that range from large to very large. Works on paper include a suite of moon phases and minimalist iconographic studies. Characteristic of her style is the extreme optical contrast between the sharply edged areas of deep black and pure white. This bright, lit-from-within surface creates an immediate sense of depth and volume, not unlike the night skies. The canvases are so strong in this effect that other artist’s work cannot be fairly shown next to hers, as was the case in a Tucson Museum of Art Biennial in the 1990’s when one of her paintings completely overshadowed every work hanging nearby. And yet, there is a serene, Zen-like tranquility to the paintings despite the intensity of the immediate impact. Her works convey the mystery of celestial light and the miracle of being, a nice transcendence from the sensational to the sublime. A dozen black birds, symbols of renewal, hover in the rafters, watching visitors and forming an honor guard for the paintings. Katherine Josten is founder and director of the Global Art Project, a world-wide organization based in Tucson which connects thousands of international artists and arts groups in a biennial exchange to promote peace through art.
Professor of Art and Chair of the Art Department, Keen State College, New Hampshire
Katherine Josten’s elegant black and white paintings record the initial gift of “voice” through the artist’s hand, as gestures are inscribed…scratched and scratched, round and round, edging the canvas…the nomadic calligraphy of an artistic shorthand, fragmentary moments with breath…scratching each mark or phrase again and again. She anecdotally refers to these visual epistles as the lesson boards of some aesthetic presence. In Source Recordings, this ancient voice pushes and speaks through her by way of the insistent repetition of incised strokings in the canvases’ heavily oiled surfaces. The meticulous, mysterious transcribings resemble runic codices of nature, (patterns and cadences of sounds, the gifted rhythms and pitches of a mantra and the waves and lunar tides of the seas). Josten’s specific autographic gestures in black and white, (far removed from the mutability of color), are consistent with the austere clarity of the shapes and scale of her canvases—circular to square, from human scale to small and tablet-like. Each aspect indicates her intentional and thick, missive laboring of paint.
Circles appear throughout her minimalist works, conjuring inner and outer space, from the birth canal (“Origins: One/All”) to the moon (“Moon Phase”).
“Source Recordings” is a big canvas cut and shaped into a circle about 5 feet in diameter. Josten cleverly makes this piece into both a big old vinyl album and a vision of outer space. Working carefully and methodically, she’s painted 28 black concentric circles in raised lines that mimic the tracks on old-fashioned records. But she’s also painted floating white globes that look like distant heavenly bodies. And some text written in a delicate script suggests that sounds gathered from outer space might connect us to those distant worlds.
“We spin together and our being touches the world,” says one. Another declares, “It is in those moments, the quiet ones, that our voices can be heard.”
“Frequencies I and II” are two canvases that work as a triptych. With thick, black oil paint formed into tiny raised circles, Josten conveys the vastness of the universe. Precise white circles painted on this textured background suggest the stars and planets, but they’re arranged in orderly zigzag patterns that key into the title’s hint of radio waves.
In “Space,” a similar painting, the stars have been set free and scattered across the blackness. You might be reminded of Van Gogh’s exultant “Starry Night,” rendered minimally in black and white.
These works were made way back in the 1980s, when vinyl was just starting to wane. But just as vinyl is once again up to the minute, these powerful, calming works feel new, as contemporary as the double storm visions over at the Temple.
Josten has created a whole installation at Davis Dominguez, complete with dangling blackbirds, starry nights and moons. It closes this weekend, but it’s well worth a stop to take a trip into deep space and the outer limits of consciousness.
Copyright © 2021 Katherine Josten. All rights reserved.