Bombarded by memory fragments, our thoughts are often pushed beyond our cognitive control. For artist Katrin Waite, relocating to the United States from her native East Germany not only brought new opportunities as a painter, and, as a historian, but also a flood of memories. The effect of the fusion of her two careers, deeply embedded in her subconscious, and an active memory, allows Waite to channel the concept of memory, both academically and visually.
A true champion of balance, in her professional work and within her creative practices, Waite is able to create harmony between both aspects of her career, and, in turn, create experimental imagery with a variety of materials. The two professions peacefully co-exist and occasionally overlap; the knowledge of which introduces the potential for a deeper understanding of, or appreciation for, her paintings. In practice, it is the undeniable progression of our memories that intrigues Waite, leading her into a rabbit hole of re-structured memories, the concept of time passing, and our own human bias when it comes to understanding our personal, past experiences.
Looking at the artwork of Katrin Waite, there is a subtle layer of complexity that is consistent across many of her paintings. Whether the complexity derives from a new material, or a chemical reaction of some sort, the details do not go unnoticed. Time, as we understand it manifests itself into three parts; the past, the present and the future. Many of Waite’s paintings encompass two of the three elements; by layering, she is forced to explore the passing of time before she can proceed. As the layers build up on the canvas, she cannot completely remove what existed before, almost acting as a metaphor for the manner in which we take memories with us, changed, but not erased.
The use of line is critical to Waite’s work. Not only on a conceptual level, in which she draws the comparison to line as a symbol of time, but through a series of calculated decisions, all having to deal with timing themselves. For example, there are three ‘scenarios’ in which lines play a role in her work... A line may be a stroke of graphite applied to the surface, after all other materials below it have dried completely, that provides a “conclusion” the artist was missing; a retrospective action. A line might be a deep scratch mark, made with a letter opener to the still wet top layers of paint, exposing all layers beneath the surface. This second act is more visceral and deliberate, creating a defined groove as the artist’s hand pushes paint aside to reveal the unknown. Finally, lines may also appear through the rhythm of laying paint across the canvas, as background or layered texture, leading the viewers gaze from side to side or from top to bottom. As the strong use of horizontal or vertical strokes dominate certain works of art, this intentional direction of line, the guiding hand of the artist, dictates the relationship between the additional elements in the composition and their connection to the viewer.
In her current solo, retrospective, show “What Remains | Treasured Memories”, we get a taste for the variety of styles and techniques applied by Waite between 2014 and 2020. The show itself features nearly 60 artworks organized into five particular clusters. Currently at Ellenbogen Gallery, our exhibition space is modeled to fit the theme of ‘clusters and pairings’; a new way to categorize and group art pieces. Not based on material and artist, but rather compositional balance and creative complexity. In keeping with a similar layout for Waite’s show, despite all the works on the wall being hers, there are a few sculptures placed at strategic points throughout the space, creating conversation between pieces.
by Elizabeth Spadea
for Ellenbogen Gallery