At first glance, Mary D. Ott’s metallic paintings seem to be characterized by their lack of complexity; her aptly titled piece “Gold on Black” refers to a dark canvas interrupted by thin, golden strokes, while “Copper” is a copper backdrop interspersed with flashes of silver. However, upon further inspection, Ott’s allusion to natural elements becomes noticeable, and one is able to appreciate the elegance of her pieces.
Metallics: Paintings and Prints at the Touchstone Gallery is surprisingly diverse in its composition. A collection of metallic paintings is accompanied by a compilation of prints, which are made from intricate etchings. The complex process Ott uses to create her pieces is contradicted by the effortless feel of her final products, as what looks like an uncomplicated stroke is actually the result of many different techniques.
For Ott, every metallic painting starts with applying a base layer to a canvas. Embroidery yarn dipped in acrylic paint is then used as a fine brush. The series of etchings titled “Wide Grass” were printed from a zinc etching plate, while “Grass Bouquet” and its successive versions involve the use of dried ornamental grasses (which were pressed against the zinc plate). Ott also employed nitric acid in preparation of the etching. Screen printing techniques were used in the final steps of the process.
While Metallics: Paintings and Prints may not be the most profound exhibit, its focus on naturalistic components and its emphasis on linearity provide for a visually soothing experience. The infinitely thin blades in “Silvery Autumn,” “Green and Purple on Gold,” and “Copper” offer unexpected depth to the uncluttered canvases. In “Wide Grass,” the varying arrangement of the blades evokes the image of an expansive field, waving slightly in the breeze. Overlays of copper hues in the “Grass Bouquet” series contrast with the soft lines of dried grasses, giving the prints a layered texture.
One of the most intriguing pieces of the exhibit (which seems to deviate from the metallic theme) is titled “Aurora.” A half ring of colorful strokes—presumably a clearing of trees—lies under a shifting grey sky. Ott is most likely depicting the display of northern lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. The spacial depth and unusual color combination of the work set it apart from the others in the exhibit. Although the grey sky can also be seen as silver, there seems to be no other overt metallic elements. Nevertheless, the piece makes an exciting and thought-provoking addition to Ott’s presentation.
There is something very enjoyable about the unpretentious nature of Metallics: Paintings and Prints. Instead of being prompted to search for some deep, metaphoric message, the viewer is encouraged to simply focus on the natural implications of the artwork and to observe Ott’s use of lines and strokes. Viewing this exhibit is comparable to viewing a field during a strange sunset. The colors and shadows have been slightly distorted, lending a strange and graceful appearance to the landscape. This is especially true of Ott’s “Wide Grass” etchings, which offer a unique perspective on the depiction of an extensive grassland.
Ott’s work is probably most appreciated by the casual art-lover. While visually engaging and pleasing, Metallics: Paintings and Prints is essentially preoccupied with elements of nature and texture. Motifs including grass, trees, and the unusual inclusion of the northern lights, are depicted in soft and calming strokes. A viewer in search of more complex and provocative pieces would not be extremely captivated. However, it is precisely because of its unostentatious nature that Ott’s work can be seen as a refreshing break from other, more exaggerated exhibits.