Opening reception in conjunction with Jammin’ on Julia: Saturday, May 1, 10 am – 6 pm
Octavia Art Gallery is pleased to present You Are the Sky, featuring encaustic paintings by Betsy Eby. This will be the artist’s third solo exhibition at the gallery.
Artist Betsy Eby has spent the past year looking inward. Throughout 2020, Eby took isolation as an opportunity to focus. From her studio in Columbus, Georgia, the artist notes that she’s felt closer to her painting practice than she has in a long time. Unstructured creative time has allowed for Eby to improvise, move slowly, and rework her large-scale compositions.
Eby’s encaustic paintings sit somewhere between landscapes, conceptual musical scores, and Abstract Expressionist explorations. Sometimes Eby’s references are literal: The vibrant greens and misty blues of Elysium, 2021, form something akin to a horizon line. However most of the time, Eby’s marks—made with knives smeared with pigmented cold and hot wax—hover just outside of representation’s reach. In works like Dragon Pearl, 2021, the artist’s swirling smoky strokes almost look as if they are moving together to form a clearer picture. The viewer is left watching the process of their coalescing or falling apart.
Taking cues from the natural surroundings of her residences in Columbus and Wheaton Island, Maine—and the Pacific Northwest, where the artist grew up—Eby is influenced by the long history of artists finding solace and reflection through the act of walking. (She specifically mentions composer Johannes Brahms’s predilection for wandering the woods around nineteenth-century Vienna.) Her paintings mimic a sensation similar to ambling; for example, in Petalum, 2021, clusters of reds, pinks, and oranges lead viewers’ eyes left and then right again in a lilting motion.
And while Eby often sketches to consider shape, mass, contrast, and space, she doesn’t use those preparatory drawings as strict plans. Instead, she lets the act of layering wax on top of wax happen more organically in order to create visual depth. Through this process, Eby is able to capture and make permanent feelings or visual impressions that in nature, or in life, would be only temporary.
A classically trained pianist, Eby often looks to the structure of music to inform her paintings. There is a kinship between the artist’s visual works and compositions by Erik Satie and Claude Debussy, who injected a feeling of looseness to challenge traditional structures of music. Eby is deeply inspired by the way that music can convey emotions without prompting listeners to ask what exactly it means. Eby’s paintings serve similarly as abstract guides through different emotional states, whether with the comparative sparseness of Quill, 2021, or the dark, moody forms in The Return, 2021.
The artist’s current show at Octavia Art Gallery in New Orleans takes its title from a meditation by Pema Chödrön: “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.” Eby’s recent works in turn offer moments to consider one’s place within the world. The waxy ecru color that forms her paintings serves as a sort of ground against which to examine Eby’s varied compositions, and her short colorful marks seem to either peacefully drift across the field or turbulently bubble up to create the mood. Through her artworks, Eby shows us that sky and weather are part of the same whole, and that no matter the changing storms, what can remain constant is what we, as viewers, bring to them.
Betsy Eby received her BA from the University of Oregon and splits her time between studios in Columbus, Georgia and Wheaton Island, Maine. In 2018, she was selected by Art in Embassies at the US Department of State and US Embassy Port Moresby to conduct a cross-cultural exchange program in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout the United States and is included in several collections including the Tacoma Art Museum, WA; the Columbus Museum, GA; the Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, GA and United States Embassy in Dubai.