Oil on panels, attached
Photo: courtesy Zg Gallery, Chicago
Trine Bumiller’s background in printmaking is evident in her paintings: wood panels combined together like building blocks to create a composite form of square and rectangular shapes. On each panel, a different organic, flat, geometric element suggests nature or botany. The artist often plays with color, preferring unnatural combinations, such as hot pink and yellow, orange with acid green or lilac contrasted with earth tones. The lines, shapes and layers of her painting technique hearken back to her training as a printmaker. Using a method known as glazing, each work is created by building up as many as fifty layers of thin oil paint. Bumiller works on tables, with the panels lying flat, allowing the liquid pigment to pool and coalesce. It’s a slow process. One layer a day. And as the layers of glaze are building, so are the cognitive connections. She begins to interpret her designs, formed during an earlier intuitive drawing process.
Bumiller begins by photographing natural elements. Recently it was grasses and yucca on a trip to Arizona. She then combines those images with others taken from magazines and the Internet. Up until a few years ago she would mock up concepts for paintings using a light box, or flatten a photograph by hand with paint, marking out certain details, leaving only the strongest elements. Today, the artist works on a computer. It’s intuitive. She looks for shapes, forms and lines that she likes together. The most difficult part of the process for Bumiller is creating the watercolor sketches of each work. It is here that she plays with color, shape and form, designing in essence what will be the final painting. She often creates the watercolors at her vacation home near the Continental Divide high in the Colorado Rockies, where it is quieter and more peaceful than her painting studio in Denver.
It was 2001 when Bumiller created her first multi-panel painting. “I was laying branches on stripes and painting those divisions. I thought, why not make it more literal and conceptual at the same time,” Bumiller recounts. Influenced by the altar paintings and predellas she viewed during a year in Italy, and how they combined imagery in rectangular shapes to tell a story, she implemented a similar structure for a public art commission at the University of Colorado. The work was created for a long hallway in the engineering building outside the water lab; she decided to make the 37-foot long painting meander like a river, and was installing it when 9/11 happened. “Instead of symmetrical, predictable rectangles I was doing paintings that were more random, kind of like the world felt at the time,” she recalls. “I went back to try the traditional panels, but they didn’t work for me anymore.”
Her upcoming solo exhibition at Zg Gallery in Chicago is titled “In Medias Res,” Latin for “into the middle of things.” “I like that in-between period, that in-between region whether it’s literal or philosophical. I’ve been working with the organic and inorganic and finding that combination in the middle of things that is representational and abstract,” she explains.
Viewing Bumiller’s paintings, her interest in science is evident. She explores imagery that is similar yet diverse: spiraling stems developing on a plant could represent the Milky Way, a rippled pool of water might be a recent galaxy discovered by the Hubble telescope. Less evident is her exploration of memory and the environment as repository. “Our memories are part of the landscape and yet we don’t see it,” she says. In this way, her paintings are a bit like Ross Bleckner’s memento mori. And with her use of organic and abstract it’s easy to think of Bumiller as a more restrained Judy Pfaff.
Symmetrical yet random, ordered but disordered, microscopic and macroscopic, Bumiller’s works employ the concrete medium of paint in such a way as to address the mysteries of the universe, and to find the edge where the individual meets the universal.
“Trine Bumiller: In Media Res, New Paintings” will be on view from March 2 — April 14, 2012. At Zg Gallery, in Chicago. www.zggallery.com