Dear Science: Artist Talk

The following is a transcription of an artists talk by Summer Romasco, originally presented at The Battery on July 14, 2015.

 Sunburst, 2013. Acrylic and latex on canvas. 24 in x 18 in.

Sunburst, 2013. Acrylic and latex on canvas. 24 in x 18 in.

I make art because I want to physically change the world around me. I want to make something out of nothing, or transform canvas and materials into images that viewers can then gather new meaning from.

Dear Science is an abstract series I’ve been working on for the last several years. This body of work is really about materials. Materials inspire me. I look at tubes of paint – these compounds of chemicals and minerals the same way builder feels look at lumber and the same way a gardener looks at dirt and seeds. There’s potential inherent in raw materials. More specifically, these paintings examine the flexibility of a few types of paint. Each painting is an exploration of the properties of acrylic paint and water on latex-primed canvases. I want to understand and push the properties of these pigments and binders and extenders and utilize the surface tension of these liquids to create active textures and patterns.

The process of making the work is physical too. I working horizontally, with canvas flat on the ground, and prime the canvases with latex, which acts as a resist, making it difficult for paint to stick to the canvas. Next, I lie down pools of water on the canvas and then drop in thinned acrylic paint. The paint disperses along the path of the water. For some if the pieces, I’ll tilt the canvases to create directional movement to change the composition.

 Milky Way, 2013. Acrylic and latex on canvas. 36 inches x 36 inches.

Milky Way, 2013. Acrylic and latex on canvas. 36 inches x 36 inches.

In a way these works are about exploring barriers by testing the physical limits of the materials. But it’s equally interesting to see what those limits, or properties, enable me to create. Certain strokes of paint maintain their shape because of the viscosity of the paint while others disperse and the combination creates patterns and form. This means making the work is very methodological and systematic: Paint latex, let dry, spread water, watch it pool, drop paint and watch it flow, make adjustments as needed, and repeat.

Because making these is such a structured process, I started to think of it as a sort of scientific method, which in turn leads me to think a lot about natural phenomena while making the series. This inspires the color choices and the titles of the pieces. For example one piece is called “Wave Form,” which is a reference to the wave-like composition, and water-blue colors, but it’s also the term describing the movement of signals through time and space. Other images have titles such as “Blood Slide” or “Nebula,” again referencing the study of natural phenomena. On the other hand, I imagine some viewers might see the work as fairly emotive, but for me that’s what’s interesting about the natural world – the uncanny combination of physics and chaos.

For me, if I am to conceptualize the work, in the end it’s is about creating balance between control, governance by physical properties, and instability and chance. I want to reach a scientific understanding these very basic materials around me, to grasp their limits and their capabilities. There are considered choices about what colors I use and how I drop paint to create composition, but at some point I like to let the materials take over and create change. I hope that the work draws attention to the way seemingly conflicting ideas, whether it be motion and rest, art and science, or calamity and calm, are inherently and essentially connected.

This essay was originally an artist talk by Summer Romasco, given at The Battery on July 14, 2015.