In a process similar to traditional fresco-secco — a method of painting with water based paints on a dry plaster surface that has been moistened — St. Louis based painter Ali Cavanaugh works by applying layers of watercolor to a prepared clay ground that has been wet.
The resulting images have been described as luminous and translucent, a character that unfortunately would be difficult to convey in photographs. Fortunately, her website often features detail crops of works, some of which are fairly large in scale, giving at least some idea of the textural character of her surface.
Cavanaugh varies her approach, from refined and precise to more loosely pulled from free washes, as though distilled out of the running wet paint.
Her subjects are figures and portraits, arranged in thematic groupings, some with light or dark backgrounds. A theme of figures with hands and arms interlocked in complex positions is contrasted with another with hands in socks, the latter submerging the complex form within a more general mass, that is in turn covered in a complex pattern. At times the socks are translucent enough to allow silhouettes of the fingers.
Cavanaugh seems to relish the challenges and the exploration of variations within her themes.
Note that the selections of paintings by theme on her website are accessed from a drop-down menu, and there is a separate section of “portraits” . There is also a brief description of her process. There are additional details about her process in her profile on the Ampersand site, makers of the clay-coated board on which she works, and a bit in this short film about the artist by Alvaro Aro.
Cavanaugh’s series “Immerse” (images above, top five) will be the subject of a solo show at the Gold Gallery in Boston from September 8 to October 18, 2015, with an artist’s reception on September 18, 2015.