RETE – CHROMES
Rete-chrome is my word for both the particular series of connected processes and the resulting artwork that have been my focus for the past ten years. Pronounced rět-ě-krōm: it is derived from rete, Latin for net; and chrome, Greek for color. My method involves applying layers of pigment, both directly (as in painting) and indirectly (as in printmaking) to attain images on an open-weave backing.
Qualities of transparency, translucency and opacity are essential aspects of the rete-chromes. The open-weave backing allows for the modulation of light throughout the image. In response to the thickness, the layering, and the individual characteristics of the paints and of the woven supports, the light flows or is blocked in varying degrees. This in turn produces complex cast shadows resulting in a rich interplay between image and environment. Ranging in size from miniature to monumental, my rete-chromes have been widely exhibited; as individual pieces and as elements in larger installations.
For over three decades, light and shadow have consistently played a central role in my work, whether in three-dimensional animation or multi-media installation, printmaking or sculpture. An extensive early apprenticeship as a marble carver in Italy heightened my sensitivity to degrees of translucency and to the role of light modulation in the creation and perception of form. While human figures were the subject of my carvings, evocative walls and doorways of the Italian countryside, villages and cities as revealed by the rich Mediterranean light, were the subject of my etchings and relief sculptures. The walls seemed to me the embodiment of communal history – a compendium of ancient to contemporary experience.
I began exploring ways of interweaving sculpture, printmaking and installation as a graduate student in the 80’s at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The role of memory in the structuring of perception was and continues to be a connecting theme throughout the work, just as woven screen was and continues to be a connecting material. . In addition to its beauty, translucency, versatility and malleability, the screen also resonates for me conceptually. I see it as a perfect metaphor for the filter of memory; the mesh through which we filtrate experience and through which we view the world.
My approaches to using screen included sewing, riveting, compressing, heat patinaing, spray painting, printing through and projecting onto. However, it wasn’t until my sabbatical year from Utah State University (where I served as department head of the sculpture program) that I began focusing on the potential of paint and screen alone. In 1998-9, as an artist in residence at the Blue Mountain Center, the Hambidge Center and the Ragdale Foundation, I began to create the first generation of rete-chromes. The interrelationship between paint and screen and ever-new ways of working with these simple elements, continue to captivate me to this day.
In my most recent rete-chromes there is often a collage-like juxtaposition of colors and patterns. Sharp edges of containment serve as a counterpoint to expansive organic areas. This may be seen as an effort to achieve balance and a sense of order in what may otherwise be a chaotic environment. While the work has a dynamic vibrancy it also has a quiet meditative quality. My rete-chromes have been likened to illuminated texts, sacred scrolls, stained glass windows, mandallas, prayer flags, tapestries, landscapes and topographical views. For me each work represents an investigation; an inner journey; a personal map. As vehicle, path and destination merge, each serves as a means of synthesizing experience and creating wholeness; an aid in striving for connection, harmony and peace.
Janet Shapero currently teaches in the University of Barcelona’s Doctorate Painting Program. A tenured professor at Utah State University and Department Head of Sculpture for many years, she has also taught at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Maine College of Art, Mass College of Art, and Wellesley College. Her work can be viewed at her studio in Waltham, MA (at 144 Moody Street, AWA Studio #1) or online at: Janet@janetshapero.com.