Through May 28 at Shift Gallery
By Cynthia Hibbard
Carolyn Gracz’s hushed but compelling new show of softly hued, abstract etchings—bookended with companionable monotypes and encaustics—lay themselves quietly open to interpretation, which is how she likes them to be.
Not one to spin words explaining or magnifying her artwork, Gracz calls the series Hidden Messages because that’s what an admiring friend peering over her shoulder saw in the work in progress at Pratt Fine Art Center, where Gracz prints.
“I like people to impose their own interpretations—I’m open to that,” Gracz said. “I enjoy hearing what people see.”
Not that the work lacks frame of reference. Gracz was initially inspired by the marks she noticed in online satellite maps and thought they might prove a good point of departure.
“I liked the marks, the lines and the little squares in the aerial photography,” she said. “I was thinking of making etchings and I could see them as aquatints.”
She began by combining shapes and groupings of small, hatched and aquatinted squares, which grew into rectangles and bands of varying lightness and darkness. Soon they were marching in patterned formations across fields of softly colored chin colle, line work and grids.
Viewers might agree with her own assessment that the result is her most cohesive and satisfying Shift show yet.
“I’m pretty proud of it and it’s hard for me to say that about my work,” Gracz said.
Her achievement has the added poignancy of being a fitting tribute to her late father Ben Gracz, with whom she’d been especially close. A pair of his dress shoes are parked before her show piece, “A Walk with Ben.”
The image reminds her of a beautiful walk she took with her father last summer on a family vacation to Ireland. Adding her father’s shoes was a way to include him in her show.
Gracz’s normal way of working is to submerge herself in an idea and adhere to where it leads her. She developed this series quickly as her ideas flowed.
The mystery of her “hidden” messages meander across color fields in a palette of subtle charcoals, grays, blue grays and mustard tones accented with touches of orange and red.
Perhaps the apogee of Gracz’s exploration of aquatinted squares and bands lies in the piece “Thirty Four,” where all other references give way to simply a maze of marks. It is hung with a three-piece series of etchings Gracz created from her photographs of sandstone Assyrian antiquities at the British Museum and looks as if she was mesmerized by their ancient designs.
In a break from her etchings, Gracz adds three full-sheet monoprints with collage, “4-16-1 through 4-16-3.” They are variations on the forms derived from the etched aerial images but with architectural touches in the line work and edge treatments. “They look more structural to me,” Gracz said.
Two small groups of encaustics, “Beehive l and ll,” and “There is No Clear Path,” seem to feature details of the markings in Gracz’ prints. They resulted from her chance find of appealing woodblocks in a scrap pile. Typically of Gracz, she worked them into the direction in which she was already headed.