Graffiti gives birth to art concept

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“In `Urban Scrawl,' I sought to uncover a new form of self-expression, a language that found its roots in graffiti but became something else entirely,” says Patricia Aaron's artist statement for an exhibit at Museum Outdoor Arts.

“I layered encaustic and street-artist ink, carving and splattering the surfaces of my canvases to juxtapose thriving cities and broken landscapes, spare beginnings and elaborate ends. The result was a vibrant montage of textures, strokes and colors — an abstract reflection of the chaotic and dynamic scenes that were the impetus behind this work.”

She talks of recent visits to Cape Town, South Africa, and New York City, where she was constantly drawn to the ever-present graffiti — an underlying presence in this collection of paintings.

Aaron's ideas are colorfully illustrated with a collection of new works included in a joint exhibit, “Urban Abstract — Rural Grid,” with Denver ceramic artist Chandler Romeo at the Museum Outdoor Arts in Englewood, which runs through March 8, 2014.

She said, during a visit to her home studio in Greenwood Village, that she and Romeo had their art placed together in an exhibit last year at the Republic Building in Denver. They decided it was a good fit and pitched the idea of a joint exhibit to Cynthia Madden Leitner, the MOA director, who curated the Republic Building show.

MOA's theme for the year is “abstract,” which works for Aaron's colorful two-dimensional works and Romeo's sculptural clay compositions.

Aaron explained her encaustic process to studio visitors, starting with a one-pound block of beeswax: She melts eight pounds at a time in a crock pot, adding a pound of Damar crystals, the material Damar varnish is made from. Clear yellow, it has bits of insects and debris in it. After two to three hours of cooking in the crockpot, she strains the liquid medium through polyester and loads it into a muffin pan (large), storing the resulting cakes until needed. “I'm always making these,” she said.

Next step is to melt a cake of medium and add pigment in a container set on her studio hotbox. She keeps an assortment of colors ready to work with, discarding them if they grow muddy. With inexpensive bristle brushes, she strokes the material onto a board backing: wood or Masonite panel. For this show, she used both, including some circular panels built at the MOA during an early fall residency from reclaimed barn wood. In addition, there is a series of 21 wheels, “Urban Legends,” poured in molds during her MOA residency and mounted in groups of three.

When the artist brushes the melted wax on the board, it sets up immediately and she uses a torch to fuse it with the layers beneath it. Or, she may stroke on layers of ink, which will blend with the wax when fused. She may also carve and scrape the surface with a ceramic tool, adding texture to the work.

The resulting pieces, each distinctively different, will look alive, almost in motion to a viewer who can discover patterns in the multiple layers of intense color and black ink accents.

Aaron also makes encaustic monoprints by painting on the hotbox surface and laying a piece of paper on it and rubbing with a brayer. “I love mark making,” she says happily.

Aaron, who earned an MFA from the University of Denver in 1998, has taught and exhibited widely and held several artist residencies. She and her husband have three grown daughters. She is represented by Space Gallery in Denver, Water Street Gallery in Douglas, Mich., and William and Joseph Gallery on Santa Fe's Canyon Road.

Also showing at the MOA: Tyler Wayne McCall's “Lightworks,” in the Light Box Gallery and a custom soundscape by Immersive Studios in the MOA Sound Gallery, where one sits, surrounded by sound — relaxing.