Wisconsin Academy: “Systems for Abstraction” opens July 12 at James Watrous Gallery

Contact: Jason A. Smith, communications director, or Jody Clowes, exhibitions manager / 608-265-2500

Systems for Abstraction: Jill Olm, Beth Racette, & Leslie Vansen

Exhibition opens at Watrous Gallery July 12

MADISON–Systems for Abstraction, an exhibition of work by Jill Olm (Eau Claire), Beth Racette (Madison) and Leslie Vansen (Milwaukee) will be on view beginning July 12, 2013, at the Wisconsin Academy’s James Watrous Gallery, located on the 3rd floor of Overture Center for the Arts in Madison. Exhibition details are as follows:

* Exhibition dates: July 12 – August 25, 2013

* Opening reception (free and open to the public): Friday, July 12, 5:30–7:30 pm, with artists’ talks at 6:30 pm. All three artists will be in attendance and will speak about their work.


Systems for Abstraction features the work of three Wisconsin artists who use abstraction to organize and present their understanding of the world. Each of these women–Jill Olm, Beth Racette, and Leslie Vansen–builds on the work of artists associated with the Abstract Expressionist and Color Field movements of the twentieth century. Unlike earlier abstract artists, however, Olm, Racette, and Vansen are allied with a contemporary approach to abstraction based on underlying “systems.” While they are deeply interested in the formal elements of color, surface, and space, they are also engaged in synthesizing information gathered from fields beyond the visual arts.

Beth Racette is compelled by living systems theory, which conceptualizes Earth, or Gaia, as a self-regulating, complex living system with the capacity to maintain the conditions for life. “My aim in creating these paintings,” Racette says, “is to learn about and portray the many systems and aspects of the Earth. I have tried to cast a wide net, explore as much as I can, and synthesize my findings visually. These paintings represent an intuitive and impressionistic integration of my exploration.”

Jill Olm is interested in the activity of mark-making as it pertains to social, geographical, and anthropological systems. Her paintings and drawings are made up of complex, repetitive patterns that indicate exponential growth, abundance, and multiplicity and the influence of industry, technology, materialism, and consumerism. Olm prefers to leave the interpretation of her work open-ended, however, and enjoys its potential to suggest fluid and diverse meanings.

For Leslie Vansen, the swirling lines and strong colors in her paintings are analogous to the residue of human action on its immediate environment. Vansen’s logic and her process are inherent in each piece, reflecting and abstracting the interactions of work, time, and movement through space. The scale of her work corresponds directly to her own physical presence, and their surfaces map the actions of her body. Yet no specific reference to a place or a moment is intended: instead Vansen strives to transmute sensation and memory into “visual force fields and remembered repetitive interactions.”

This exhibition is made possible through the generous support of Dane Arts and the Wisconsin Arts Board, with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. The James Watrous Gallery also receives ongoing support from Doubletree Hotel-Madison and the members of the nonprofit Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

About the James Watrous Gallery

The James Watrous Gallery is dedicated to Wisconsin visual art and artists. A program of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, the Watrous Gallery’s mission is to promote the visual arts in Wisconsin through quality exhibitions and educational programs. For gallery hours and more information on exhibiting artists, please visit wisconsinacademy.org/gallery or call 608-265-2500.