A plastic canvas
Marjorie Minkin's new exhibit open through July 28
ADAMS — Marjorie Minkin can make plastic entrancing.
Adding some heat, acrylics, paint medium, rivets and screws, the part-time North Adams resident fashions layered works using Lexan, a polycarbonate plastic, as her base surface. In "The Shape of Light," a show on display at Real Eyes Gallery in Adams through July 28, more than a couple handfuls of Minkin's massive creations jut from walls, their bent, bumpy Lexan sheets stacked to form streaked spatial illusions. Their statements about light, movement and science are not merely confined to their broad physical dimensions, either.
"The shadows and the reflections and the color projections are very much part of the piece for me," Minkin said during a Tuesday morning visit to her Eclipse Mill working and living space in North Adams. "It's another real layer for me. It's important."
Light has always fascinated Minkin. As a child, she had an eye condition that prevented her from "seeing with both eyes at the same time," she wrote in a statement. "Looking first with one eye, then the other, I saw effects of light differently with each eye and realized early on that the world can be viewed from different perspectives."
Minkin's Lexan works invite close inspection. Rich acrylics run across each sheet. Minkin typically pours the paint into "channels" that she creates by manipulating the Lexan.
"It kind of flows like a river or a stream through the plastic," she said, later noting that she draws inspiration from the Hoosic River as well as the Charles River, which is near the Waltham studio where she produced all of the exhibit's work.
The overlapping colors, clear plastic and resulting shadows combine to prompt questions about where the pieces begin and end. Minkin sought such an effect when she started her career working on canvas decades ago. Back then, she tried to increase layering by placing plastic over the canvas.
"At that time, acrylic paint was a fairly new medium in the history of art, and the Goldens were just developing the mediums. They didn't dry perfectly clear. There was a bit of yellowness. That's not true today. They dry as clear as glass. But at that time, there was a little yellowness, so I wanted to avoid that. That's why I used a clear sheet of plastic over them, and then I would bend the edges so that I could attach it to the back of the canvas stretch," Minkin recalled.
Though one of her acrylic-on-canvas pieces is in the Museum of Fine Arts' collection and she still works on the surface, Minkin began focusing on Lexan as her primary material in the mid-1980s and has been refining her process, which she'll be available to chat about at the gallery today, ever since. She uses sheets that are an eighth of an inch thick, cutting them with a jigsaw to her desired shape or leaving them rectangular. She then fires up a heat gun to its hottest setting and applies it to the Lexan. It's a time-consuming process.
"I do it by hand with my oven mitts on, heating a portion at a time because it does cool off pretty quickly, and you have a limited amount of time to bend it," she said. "It folds easily like a clay slab when it's warm enough."
Viewers may notice bubbles in some of the pieces. Polycarbonate has some moisture in it, she said, that dries up as she goes. She appreciates the added texture.
"I like the bubbling," she said.
Starting on a table before moving to the wall, Minkin ensures that each sheet's shape, and the work's overall shape, are to her liking. Once she's content, painting begins. The acrylic medium essentially liquefies the paint, allowing it to run down and around the sheets. The Real Eyes show features a rich palette. In "Riding the Waves," yellows and blues spread horizontally, undulating ever so slightly. Across the gallery, "Amazonia" is a jungle of greens and blues. The 60"-by-30"-by-10" work is one of three dense vertical pieces that hang next to "Constellation," a 105"-by-186"-by-7" collection of 15 single sheets without paint. It's a stark contrast.
"I like the idea of showing the material without the colors so you can really see the form, the light, the shadow," Minkin said of "Constellation."
She also wanted to show pieces that people could move around, experiencing them from different angles.
"It's kind of a metaphor for life for me, a personal thing," she said. "I think that if we could relate to each other in that way and see things from different perspectives, there might be more dialogue, more communication or better communication."
Minkin studied philosophy and science during her youth, earning a master's degree in the former from Boston University. She's long been interested in quantum energy and the cosmos, curious about the universe's interconnections. Yet, many humans can feel at a distance from those subjects.
"I wanted to make work that was both substantial and ephemeral, that would bridge that world, that would show light and energy," she said, "and at the same time be a very concrete material that you can touch, that's there and that has volume."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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