Digital Studio Visit: Joan Wortis
The first thing that often strikes viewers of artwork by Joan Wortis is her impeccable sense of compositional balance, as well as her unusual and striking color choices. It is no surprise to learn that her extensive creative background includes time spent as a dancer and choreographer, as well as professional work as a designer and color forecaster for the textile industry.
These varied skills have manifested in her visual artwork in many ways and are revealed at their most mature in her current body of artwork, the Visual Poems exhibition. This series of monotype collage artwork re-imagines the shapes found in global written forms and symbols to create compositions with the elegance of a visual poem or the 2-dimensional equivalent of a dancer’s grace.
“It is the beauty of the lines and the infinite variety of how they form on paper that draws me in,” writes Wortis of her attraction to the strokes that create alphabets, symbols, signs, and patterns. With the sensibility of choreography and movement informing her eye, Wortis skillfully arranges line, color, shape, and space in ways that reveal the different qualities and aesthetics from sources around the world.
Hints of shape and pattern reveal her lifelong love of global textiles and surface design. Many of the central works in the show reference the beautiful applique patterns of textiles from the Kuba kingdom in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Although part of a tradition that stretches back 400 years, Kuba textiles have a strikingly modern look. They use improvised systems of signs, lines, colors, and textures, often in the form of complex geometric rectilinear patterns.” (Kuba Textiles & Design” by Elizabeth S. Bennett & Niangi Batulukisi)
Other works in the show are inspired by the shapes, lines, and methods of calligraphy and script writing, notably the Maghrebi script, a form of Arabic calligraphy from North Africa, and Cambodian Khmer script, one of the earliest writing systems used in Southeast Asia.
“The Arab calligraphers considered that their art was the geometry of the soul expressed through the body.” (“The Splendor of Islamic Calligraphy” by Abdelkebir Khatibi and Mohammed Sijelmassi)
Joan Wortis uses monotype printing and collage processes to create images that dance across the canvas as they expand, contract and layer upon themselves. She has developed personal techniques that involve running unusual objects such as nets and fibers through her press, and combining her printmaking with collage and photography.
In the world of fine art print-making, a monotype is a print that can be created only once, creating a singular artwork that cannot be editioned. Joan’s work often begins with cut-vinyl or paper forms, derived from calligraphy and pattern sources. She arranges and rearranges the forms on Plexiglas plates, which are then covered in ink and drawn through the printing press against paper, sometimes also trapping unusual materials such as netting or string in between to create further barrier between ink and paper.
“The paper responds to the ink in different ways depending on whether it is the first run through the press or the second or third,” Joan writes. “The placement of forms, netting, string, etc. and on which run they are placed also determines what is revealed or concealed underneath. These are the surprises that fuel my work.”
Joan spends months, even years, manipulating the many layers that go into her artworks. Surrounded by works-in-progress in her Vashon Island studio, she is able to flow between two states of mind as she creates each piece – one day reveling in intuitive artistic play and experimentation, and the next day pinning the art on the wall for careful consideration by her designer’s eye.
Originally from New York City, Wortis’ extensive career in the arts has spanned modern dance, hand-weaving, commercial textile design, printmaking and collage. Movement has always influenced Wortis’ work as a visual artist, giving her a deep sensitivity to the lyrical qualities of line and shape. Following a 15 year career as a modern dancer and choreographer in the United States and Mexico, Joan moved to the world of visual art after studying weaving and textile design with renowned artists Adela Akers and Jack Lenor Larsen. Wortis’ weavings were shown at museums including the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City.
After a period of living and traveling in Asia, Ms. Wortis brought her textile sensibility to creative possibilities in monotype, collage and assemblage. This work has been exhibited at galleries and museums including the Shenzhen Art Institute in China, Nexus Gallery in NYC, Seattle Art Museum Gallery, Tacoma Art Museum, CoCA, Kirkland Arts Center, Gallery Atte in Tokyo and the Jacob Lawrence Gallery at the University of Washington.