September 28 to November 12, 2017
Ampersand is pleased to present a solo exhibition of paintings by Ellen McFadden. As their titles imply, many of these new paintings are rooted in memories of years she spent living and working in eastern Washington. A key influence at the time was a 1965 exhibition of “optical abstraction” titled The Responsive Eye that originated at The Museum of Modern Art in New York and traveled to subsequent venues, including The Seattle Art Museum. There, McFadden and her husband, Irwin, were exposed to pioneering works by Josef Albers, Bridget Riley, Ad Reinhardt, Frank Stella and many others. The experience would imbue their collaborative work in design and painting in the decades that followed and remains alive in the work she makes today. Flipping through her copy of the exhibition’s catalog, it’s interesting to note that titles of featured pieces are often numerical, a list of colors or vague allusions to some kind of retinal cognition. In other words, they are not diaristic; they tend not to refer back to the makers themselves. This may also be true of McFadden’s work. Or maybe not. Wawawai, for instance, was the name of a small orchard town on the Snake River that was covered by water after the construction of the Lower Granite Dam in the 1970s. Yet the maze of kinetic triangles in the actual painting offers no clear link between this historic fact and the life of the artist herself. The mystery adds a compelling undercurrent of unresolved narrative to the viewing experience. And when asked recently about three different paintings with the common title of Niimiipu, the forms of which are almost figurative, McFadden offered little more than a simple reply, “These are my ghosts.”
Ellen McFadden was born in 1928 in Portland, Oregon. She attended the Portland Art Museum School (now the Pacific Northwest College of Art) in the late 1940s, followed by a lifelong commitment to art and design, both as an instructor and freelance graphic designer in the Northwest and Iowa. Influenced in the early 1960s by Constructivist and New Graphic Design movements in Europe, she and her husband, Irwin McFadden, assimilated these new styles into their own design and art practices. Today she continues to work on paintings that incorporate pattern and vibrant color, their titles alluding to the Northwest geography and native tribes that are so ingrained in her personal history. In addition to exhibitions here at Ampersand, McFadden’s paintings were featured in a solo presentation at Weiden+Kennedy (Portland, OR) and she was among 34 artists selected for the Portland Biennial, 2016.
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Satsop II, 2017
Acrylic on canvas
48 x 36 in.
Acrylic on canvas
60 x 60 in.