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Felice Koenig's Artwork at Nichols School Gallery

Detail from "Cape of Stars" by Felice Koenig.

This Must be the Place

We may be living in a time of horror vacui, a fear of empty space. The quaint black telephone was once a utilitarian appliance that rested on a small table in an out-of-the way corner of the home—simply a mechanism for occasional contact with the outside world. The device has evolved into a multi-purpose instrument that never strays too far from a grasping hand. Both lifeline and entertaining toy, it is also a form of security blanket that pushes back the void to hold the outside world close. The end of 2013 is a time marked by an obsessive need to fill in all the blanks with image, word, and sound. How do we navigate this sea of possibility? Transforming the visual and mental chaos is the frontier of art. “Painting is a place where this contemporary overload can be reckoned with,” explains Felice Koenig.

Her current show, Meditations, on the walls outside the Glenn and Awdry Flickinger Performing Arts Center at Nichols beckoned me to look carefully at the repetitive cellular marks. Stand further back and they blend together into a balanced whole. The artist was included in the 2011 Burchfield Penney exhibition An Overabundance of Detail, a title that continues to be a defining feature of her work that investigates growth and movement. The work points to the mystical nature of creation—suggests places within. Koenig refers to the repetitive graphite gestures made with a mechanical pencil as the “root structure” of her contemplative artistic process. She explains in her statement that the drawings are a record of meditations on pathways to love—ways to enter into and experience love. The paintings expand these possibilities with titles such as Sweet Thing, This Feels Good, and Lavender Coma. Some are small square panels, others are sculptural objects of concave, convex, or ring-shaped round surfaces. She considers her painting as “a place, a site of record, a tracing of possibility.” The paint application results in a layered and multi-colored beaded texture that reads as one hue of color. These undulating fields conjure up a soundtrack of ambient sound, humming, monks chanting, or amplified heartbeats. There is a tangible sense of the artist’s devoted care (love) as she adds her marks and color.

Cultural anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake defines art as an act of “making special,” an evolutionary need in the human species. Artists make an occupation of it. All-over patterned surface, such as Koenig’s, is often employed by artists of outsider, visionary, and psychedelic art movements. While her methodical works may be a commentary on both fullness and spaciousness (emptiness), her art process seems to be aligned with the practices of monks residing in the monastery. They embrace empty space with structured lives of repetition. Whether it is bowing, chanting, sweeping, or creating mandala patterns with colored grains of sand, these activities become an anchor to the present moment—an awakened state of being. Artists find their own systems for illuminating experience—making special. Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words remind us that “nature is an endless combination and repetition of very few laws. She hums the old well-known air through innumerable variations.” Felice Koenig’s meditations speak to this truism. The show will remain on view until January 13, 2014.

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