Work With Where You Are: Trudy Barnes in the Studio

May 18, 2018 by

Things evolve when you give them time and space. That’s been Trudy Barnes experience and approach during her Studio Workspace Residency.  

Primarily working on the etching press, her work here gradually expanded to include the papermaking studio and dye porch. “I like the evolution and growth,” she says. “For me, it’s been about searching, and working through what I wanted to do when I got here.”

Trudy uses everyday items and found objects to construct images that reflect a “landscape that is your life.” Found hardware pieces, bristles from shop brooms, scraps of sanding belts, and hair pins are some of the main figures in her collagraphs, yet you might not recognize them as such. Discovering that casting her plates in handmade paper captured new dimensions, she moved away from inking completely. In her low-relief casts, rather than representing the form’s function, these small castings define the object’s shape in space, holding their ridges and curves; making something familiar become something new.

Each composition is meticulously arranged on the plate, covered with a damp sheet of handmade cotton paper and run through the etching press to then be placed in the dry box. The time and attention given to each casting acts more like a daily recording—42 to be exact, one made for every day of her residency.

Working 11 years in a glass studio in Oakland, CA., Trudy began to feel the constraints that glass imposed on her natural tendency to work directly with her hands. After taking a printmaking class at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, she felt the connection she had been missing. The pace of printmaking and its tactile processes compelled her to continue working in this medium. For Trudy, the satisfaction of printing comes from being able to enter the studio and leave with something at the end of the day, allowing her work to evolve more quickly.

With winter transitioning into spring, natural dyeing made its way into her practice. Using the generous offerings of wild plants found in the surrounding woods, her paper and fabric have started turning various shades of pinks, grays, and browns. Spruce cones, marigolds, walnut husks, and avocado pits and skins have turned out surprising colors in the dye vat. With each new process she incorporates, the visual rendition of her relationship to her environment becomes more dynamic. For now, the dyed fabric and pulp are raw materials that she plans to fold into future work.

Throughout Trudy’s work there is an interplay between man-made objects and those found naturally. In some castings we see the rust transferred from the hardware onto the paper, shrinking the gap even more and inviting us to consider paper outside of its ubiquitous commercial  state. “To take industrial-looking materials and cast them using handmade paper in a very traditional process forces you to examine both” she explains.

We can also see Trudy’s work grappling with control and chaos. This act of collecting, organizing and composing found materials, natural and mass-produced, is “taking the chaotic and condensing it down into a pattern.” Many of her compositions are abstract yet orderly. There is an intentional arrangement that transforms the objects from individual pieces into a unified design. As she sees it, “a oneness within the multiplicity.”

However, we find the opposite occurring in her dyed works. Each dye batch produces a color gradient, manipulated with the addition of mordant or an iron bath. Yet, after calculating and measuring materials and ingredients, she is surprised by the results. “It’s been a constant readjustment to my expectations” she says, and finds she is often pleased with the unexpected outcomes.

As her practice grows to include more mediums, one aspect of Trudy’s approach remains the same, “just, wherever you are, look.”

Trudy Barnes is a visual artist living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work includes kiln-glass and printmaking. A passion for photography and gardening inform the conceptual development of her studio practice. In addition, she teaches art to children through the non-profit group Art in Action located in Menlo Park. Barnes has exhibited her work internationally and nationally at New Designers in London, the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, Wales, the Triton Museum of Art, Sanchez Art Center, the Center for Contemporary Printmaking, Public Glass, and Kala Art Institute. Find more of her work on her website and see more photos from her residency on our Flickr!

Marisa Malone is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been published in Selfish Magazine and BlazeVox Journal   and she has self-published two chapbooks of poetry.