Martha MacLeish

Taking by the Middle, the title of my current body of work, is a phrase used by 19th century French painter Eugène Delacroix to differentiate between two means for constructing a drawing, ‘starting with a contour’ as compared to ‘taking by the middle’. For me, ‘Taking by the middle’ suggests an idea of plasticity, a capacity for shifting means and meaning, as opposed to the rigidity of a fast boundary. In this group of works, sculptural and pictorial elements come together and reverse positions. Strong linear edges and flat profiles make reference to pictorialism, while flat shapes are laminated to build three-dimensional forms.

In recent years, I have been working with sheets of polyvinyl chloride plastic as a primary construction material. Initially, I was making hollow structures with white plastic only, and introduced color as a secondary, modifying element through the application of paint. Presently, I also construct solid forms of laminated plastic. Building my forms in laminated layers creates color stripes, and allows color to contribute to the formation of a visual idea as an intrinsic part of the built structure itself.

I am interested in isolating the spatial quirks and ambiguities that I find so compelling in painting, and understanding how these can be experienced as forms that inhabit our space. I am also interested in how the strong, localized color of the plastics I use can be made to behave more lithely through optical mixture of stripes and through the overlay of transparent shadows as the forms bend in space. When encountering my work, the viewer will be encouraged to “take by the middle” the form in front of them – to not first define what they are seeing, but instead come to know it through their visual experience.