Blue is the color of calm, tranquility and serenity. It’s the color of water, sky, flowers, and our planet when seen from space. Blue is also artists Janet Cathey and Linda Bryan’s color — Cathey’s in her subjects, Bryan’s in subjects and process.
“Deeper Than Blue,” an exhibition of prints by Janet Cathey and by Linda Bryan, opened last week at the Gallery at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin. The exhibition features hand-pulled woodblock prints by Cathey and cyanotypes and combination cyanotype-prints by Bryan.
The natural world is an inspiration for both, and in several pieces in “Deeper Than Blue,” the artists consider similar subjects with their different approaches and techniques. A quartet of works brings together Cathey’s glimmering water surfaces with Bryan’s cyanotype-print fish. In botanical subjects, Bryan’s hydrangea, ginkgo, and lily of the valley emerge in white and pale blues against Prussian blue backgrounds. Cathey’s seedpods, cells, and microorganisms emerge in layers of blue, black and green built up on textured paper.
“My inspiration comes from patterns and shapes in the natural world, from tree shadows to reflections on a lake’s water surface,” says Cathey, who lives in Randolph and teaches art. “I aim to simplify and sometimes abstract images in nature in order to emphasize beautiful pattern and gorgeous color. Carving these patterns into a block of cherry plywood is a true meditative pleasure,”
In Cathey’s more than 25 artworks, viewers see three areas of her recent work — her explorations of water surfaces, her more abstracted layered prints, and a glimpse of her artwork embellishing her prints with hand stitching,
“I try to impart (a) feeling of peacefulness and beauty of sparking water,” Cathey said, noting that, “I really try to capture the reflection of light and the patterns it makes. I try to make (it) realistic, and sometimes even name them for the particular place that I experienced it.”
“Twilight, Green River Reservoir” is all water. Cathey’s printed long horizontal planes of blues and black evoke the gentle ripples of the water’s surface in the low light of evening.
Among her recent work, Cathey layers realistic woodcut blocks to build abstract works. Her “Tree Shadows” abstracts evoke arboreal moments.
Bryan, who lives in Newbury, teaches digital and film photography and camera-less pinhole and cyanotype photography. Her work in the exhibition includes classic cyanotype works as well as works combining cyanotype and printmaking, her printmaking including using woodblock, solar plate etching, and pronto plate lithography.
The cyanotype process, one of the earliest photographic techniques, dates back to the 1840s, when English scientist John Herschel discovered that an emulsion of iron salts applied to paper was light sensitive. When an object is placed on paper or fabric treated with this emulsion and exposed to ultra violet rays — the sun for example — and washed in water, the uncovered area turns deep blue, and the covered area in negative white. Anna Atkins, a pioneer botanist and photographer, used this process in what is considered the first book with photographic images, her 1843 “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.”
Many of Bryan’s works in the exhibition are classic cyanotypes. In her two “Hydrangea Petals” images, the petals are arrayed inside a circle, evoking a sense of looking through a microscope, or bringing to mind a sense of our blue planet. Sharp outlines of the petals contrast with the exposed background. Light filtering through them exposes their interstices, overlaps, creases — a sense of them as living things with both lovely symmetry and unique form.
Bryan has increasingly extended her work into combinations of cyanotype and printmaking, explorations nurtured at Two River Printmaking Studio in White River Junction, where she and Cathey are both members. The well-equipped studio offers printmaking education and a collaborative venue for creative work.
A new direction for Bryan has been learning techniques for turning a photographic image into an etching. For her “Moon” series, she uses a technique distantly related to cyanotype, solar plate etching. In this case, a transparency is placed on a specially treated light-sensitive plate and exposed to the sun. Water dissolves the unexposed surface of the plate, leaving an etching.
“The moon goes into a lot of my work,” Bryan said. “Art is a respite from external tension in life” The moon, she noted, may remind us that, “here we are on a planet.”