SANTA FE — Repetition is, forgive the redundancy, a repeated motif in visual art. Repetition’s appeal includes a marking of time, a desire to gain mastery over imagery, process, or material, and an attempt to quiet one’s own discordant mind — in short, to make sense of the world. A popular platform for such duplication is the grid, present in almost all areas of our lives, right down to the fabrics we live in and with. 

Jane Lackey, a visual artist based in Santa Fe, pulls from her background in textiles and drawing to create abstract paintings and large-scale installations that privilege tactility and often employ the grid. She earned degrees from the California College of the Arts in Oakland and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where she was Artist in Residence and then head of the fiber department in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Lackey’s works bring to the forefront the often invisible or rarely acknowledged experiences of connection. 

“The tactility of materials has always been important to me, as has holding something in my hands to touch and manipulate,” she explained. “Early on, that quality overlapped with my interest in drawing. Textile construction is possible because of the intersection of lines, essentially lines of thread or materials that must intertwine or link in some way to hold together. Crossing lines create a space that one can get entangled in. Lately I’ve been working with paper while referring to the process of textiles.”

Lackey describes her recent works, both large and small scale, as cut paintings in which she meticulously creates a grid on the surface of Japanese kozo paper by adding and subtracting tiny adhesive labels, tape, paint, and sometimes thread. Her use of the grid in these paintings is generative, not exhaustive. The gridded sheet of labels serves as a matrix of sorts, with one idea leading to the next, as seen in her recent show at Simone DeSousa Gallery in Detroit and her current show at Pie Projects in Santa Fe, on view through September 30.

Jane Lackey, “Friction 1& 2” (2018), installation view, approximate 72 x 88 inches, with 10 inches between each piece

“I’ve always been interested in limited systems and how much I can do with variation within limits … the idea of something being repeated over and over again and then how individual parts are connected to the whole,” Lackey told me during our recent studio visit. As a practicing artist for more than 40 years, she is part of a lineage of women artists, historical and contemporary, who work with textiles and abstraction to reference their personal experiences.

“I love to use the reference to plaid because we all know it from clothing. And so, it can easily bring to mind the crossing of threads or lines and specific textiles we identify with. Plaid is usually made of stripes that happen because of the interaction of warp and the weft. So, when I say plaid, I’m talking about crossing threads — essentially, woven cloth — but also something of human enactment too.”

Plaid is just one way that Lackey employs the grid to order the experiential associations of abstraction. The pattern’s “connective tissue,” as she calls it, offers a glimpse of her previous bodies of work in which she alludes to mapping, memory, DNA, and language as common identifiers. Seat of Learning (2020), a collaboration with designer Thomas Lehn, is a substantial multimedia installation that “investigates time, movement, memory, knowledge, and how we learn from material objects.” 

“I’ve said for years that my work refers to connections and intersections,” she expressed, adding, “Those are words that get thrown around culturally and socially. It is a question of whether there is an abiding sense of interdependence and commonality that forms a constant abstract layer of my work.” 

In her newest cut paintings, such as “Doubling Orange/Red” (2022) and “Doubling Blue/Lime” (2022), that abstract layer is palpably and conceptually multiplied. The vertical grid lines of the lower layer align with the top layer’s negative spaces, allowing them to segment those lines into colorful lozenges. The result is a dynamic look at the relationships between color and space. This is where Lackey’s abstractions become powerful phenomenological communicators. Their expanded fields of blips, glitches, information gaps, codes, marks, and entanglements are tangible evidence that our senses are influenced by context. 

Jane Lackey, “Periphery” (2018), acrylic paint, single-layer cut kozo paper, 19 x 13 inches

Lackey noted that she wants “to find a kind of vibration of color,” saying that she has always loved Josef Albers’s explanation of what makes color interact and change in relation to neutral grays or how colors vibrate in a way that we see a third color — seeing things that aren’t there or that are not discernible unless it is in relationship with something else. When she was making her large gray and black pieces, including the Friction series, she would always see an after-image of yellow.

Although her works invite a slow experience of looking, Lackey has to move quickly with her hands to create them. I’m reminded that as viewers we can forget or take for granted the fact that artists often engage in feats of endurance. Her process is one of continuous movement.

“I’m constantly putting something (tape, adhesive labels, thread) on the paper or pulling it off at different rates within the formation of a composition. And then there is the knife, quickly cutting away small rectangles,” she said. “I sense the energy of making marks together with a sense of interruption that rumbles through my rhythm of movement.”

Lackey’s energy makes its way to the final form of the works. Shadows pulse, colors vibrate, structures sway. “There are things going on in the world that I can’t figure out. I’m not sure anybody can. I’m trying to grab hold of this energy, a kind of wave, but it’s just too complicated — words don’t express it anymore. So, I’m working in a state of trying to find it through the gestures of my body, through movement, through emotions that well up and flow into the surface of paper I’m working on.”

When I asked her what she thinks about while she’s working, she replied, in part, “I think of time.” I looked at her artworks again and considered how one of the most abstract concepts with which we humans grapple can be drawn out, like a thread or string, to expand our understanding of connection.

Jane Lackey, “Porta 3” (2022), paint, ink, hand-cut kozo paper, 46 x 72 inches
Jane Lackey, “Doubling blue/lime” (2022), paint, hand-cut, layered kozo paper, 20 x 16 inches
Jane Lackey, “Doubling orange/red” (2022), paint, hand-cut, layered kozo paper, 20 x 16 inches
Jane Lackey, “Doubling blue/bismuth/yellow” (2023), cut paper over solid kozo paper, 27 x 16 inches

Jane Lackey: Openworks continues at Pie Projects (924B Shoofly Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico) through September 30. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

Nancy Zastudil is an independent editor, writer, and curator working toward equitable representation in the arts. She regularly edits artist books and exhibition catalogs, and writes about visual art for...

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