Washington, D.C.

Andrea Way

Brody's Gallery

This exhibition comprised eight relatively large abstract drawings by Andrea Way. Way, like Sol LeWitt, is interested in how systems can be used as tools to structure and generate works of art. Thus, what appears to be simply a web of arbitrary patterns is actually a meticulously rendered, complex maze of interlocking layers. The variously colored linear elements are keyed to numerical codes. In Tidepool, 1988, Way repeats a five-inch square along a grid; she places a circle containing an equilateral triangle into each square. The triangles, tilted in four different directions, form a repeating sequence echoing the four phases of the lunar cycle. The horizontal lines of the grid trigger ascending and descending arcs that form columns of wavy lines. The overall visual effect, with the work’s blue tonality and wavy lines, is of triangles quivering on ripples in a shallow pool. Through its orderly cyclical patterns, the work suggests an image of the passing of time.

In Diatoms, 1989, Way turns from the visible natural world to the microscopic world of unicellular algae, called diatoms. Using a raw potato as a stamp, the artist covered a red-orange field with approximately six hundred white diatom shapes, all differently decorated. Numerically coded vertical bars trigger thin diagonal yellow lines, which connect and hold these diatoms within a delicate latticework grid. In Jackson’s Orbit, 1989, Way began by dripping black ink from an eyedropper onto a sheet of white paper. These drops, which recall Jackson Pollock’s painting technique, form a pattern of gestures arranged by chance. Each drop has four small concentric circles drawn in black around it. A small, blue, square grid is placed over these elements to give the work its tonality. The regularity of this grid is reiterated by a series of larger, concentric circles in white, organized on a grid format. Finally, a repeating sequence of coded numbers in darker blue is used to create the shape of seven blue poles. These poles, which hover in space between the large concentric circles, animate the work and transform it into an energy field.

Way conceives of nature not solely in terms of visual appearance, but in the more complex and less easily represented sense of a series of patterns set in motion. This parallels Peter Halley’s conception of society as a series of cybernetic systems. What makes Way’s work so interesting is her apparent realization of the danger inherent in attempting to create visual representations of complex systems. By regulating the outcome of these systems through esthetic choices and artistic references, she undermines the contention that contemporary society is gripped by systems that are hopelessly beyond control. Ultimately, the interaction between system and choice in Way’s work becomes a simple metaphor for individual creativity within a regimented society.

Howard Risatti