Written by Hannah Schechter
Andrea Way is a contemporary painter who is probably best known for blending scientific systems and painstaking detail with abstractionism. I saw a collection of her works on exhibit at American University earlier this semester. I found Way’s paintings fascinating, and I wanted to use this assignment to become more familiar with her work.
Way’s style is quite distinctive. She generally starts from a grid, pattern or code. These patterns are often inspired by nature or grounded in math and science. For example, the underlying construction of several paintings resembles what one might see through a telescope or microscope. Mystery Rock (1990) brings to mind a magnified image of a sedimentary rock.
Other paintings have bottom layers that resemble sound waves or computer code. Voice (1988) is an example of this.
Way then meticulously adds layers. In the case of Voice, Way herself admits that it was particularly tiresome layering the rectilinear forms with the concentric circles. As Way builds a painting, she often does not do not necessarily follow the original grid. She allows a certain amount of discovery in determining how to build on the previous design, not unlike the process by which organisms and object develop in nature. The many facets of the piece can create a sense of chaos, but they all tie together when the work is taken as a whole.
It can be hard to appreciate the detail and the variety of techniques that Way demonstrates in a single painting from the pictures of her work displayed online and in books. When viewed in person, the overall impression of a painting can change drastically depending on the distance and angle from which the observer is standing due to the way the innumerable marks blend together. The lighting of a piece also affects the impact of the work. This may be because Way uses colors and materials with different reflective qualities or because the material is so thickly applied that the work takes on a third dimension.
The latter is the case in Ken’s Light (1994). The bright squares in this piece have an aspect similar to that of a wax seal on an envelope.
Way was born in Arcadia, California in 1949. She has spent most of her life and career in Washington D.C. and in various cities in California. Way did not definitively decide to be an artist until the late seventies after she had completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology and after she had done most of the work for her graduate degree. Her first public exhibition was in 1979 at the Arlington Arts Center and her first solo exhibition was in 1980 at the Barbara Fieldler Gallery in Washington, D.C. She currently lives in Petaluma, CA with her husband.
In recent years, Wei has pushed beyond her signature meticulous style. She has been exploring abstract methods of landscape and still life painting, as opposed approaching painting from a pure observation. As Way puts it, “instead of painting from the eye, it is painting from the heart.”
French, Christopher C., ed. Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting 42nd Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting. Washington, D.C.: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1991.
Way, Andrea. Andrea Way: Original Paintings. 2012. 24 Feb. 2013 <http://www.andreaway.net/index.html>.
The Washington Post. American University Museum’s ‘Andrea Way: Retrospective 1982-2012’. 2013. 27 Feb. 2013. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/american-university-museums-andrea-way-retrospective-1982-2012/2013/02/07/7903d8b0-714f-11e2-a050-b83a7b35c4b5_gallery.html#photo=1>.
Washingtonian Magazine. Washington Artist: Andrea Way. 1 March 2006. 27 Feb. 2013. <http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/arts-events/washington-artist-andrea-way/>.
Brian Gross Fine Art. andrea way. 27 Feb. 2013. <http://www.briangrossfineart.com/artists/away/index.html>.