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Mark Leo Lavatelli at Big Orbit Gallery

"Haven" by Mark Leo Lavatelli


“Tracing” is the experiential focus central to making art. Every painter paints from memory since the act of painting must follow from the act of seeing. Freud called it “nachtraglichkeit,” the way in which memory can be deeply altered by earlier unconscious memory thereby providing meaning and giving emotional weight to what one remembers. Rather than a linking chain of events experiential causes and effects fan out in both temporal directions like the tracery of a branching tree. Working from just such an arboreal armature, Mark Lavatelli creates a kind of abstracted representational painting focusing on a tree’s grounded upright thrust of trunk and undulating rhythmic array of branches extending into surrounding space.

Lavatelli’s painting method involves a largely obscure process; a beeswax technique called “encaustic,” creating colors, texture and tones that differ from brush painting in tactility, surface and quality of light.

Encaustic painting is an ancient highly permanent technique going back to Egyptian times in which the binder is beeswax. Unlike linseed oil or acrylic, binders that dry to a hardened state, beeswax is heated until molten, mixed with dry pigment to make paint and when applied to the painting surface cools and hardens instantly. When the painting is finished the entire surface is reheated to fuse the layers and bond them to the canvas in a process called “burning in”—the literal meaning of encaustic.

Lavatelli works from pictures of trees found on his laptop, which he then formally organizes enlarged on canvas producing a kind of figurative icono-graph—an all encompassing structural unit. Lavatelli has said “I like trees because they are metaphors for human potential of individuality, of vision—ultimately of consciousness in both personal and universal experience.” In the extensive catalog essay by Edmund Cardoni, Lavatelli’s subject is the “wooded world out there.”

However, in much of his recent work the formal representation of trees is juxtaposed with layered abstracted geometric painted shapes in straight forward linear blocks reading like blanks in the imagery but finding a counterpoint in the luminous tracery of branches and the negative space of the transparent atmosphere.

Lavatelli often works in stenciled words and symbols—musing on environmental icons of popular controversy where, in the manner of Jasper Johns, he positions signal references in overlapping articulations.

Pine an installation in the center of the exhibition presents suspended lengths of lumber and natural limbs, poetically emphasizes the expedient bargain compromising the environment and the health and welfare of future generations—leaving them like Lavatelli’s collaged stick form twisting in the wind.

His most recent large-scale paintings have evolved to present a classical symmetry integrating power and proportion, energy and structure in the manner of painters of the Renaissance.

A teacher and Diebenkorn scholar, Lavatelli’s Big Orbit exhibition covers over 35 years of the artist’s prodigious investigations of tree forms.

The exhibit runs through October 26.

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