Sondra N. Arkin is a painter and curator whose media include painting, printmaking, sculpture and assemblage. Most of her recent work is in hot wax, shellac and ink (encaustic), with which she makes luminous surfaces, saturated with color, punctuated with texture and depth, yet so smooth that they are mistaken for glass or ceramic. Arkin’s fields of color are deeply serene and her artistic vocabulary focuses on connections and boundaries.
The last decade is filled with many solo shows and her work is represented in many private, corporate and public collections including the U.S. State Department’s Art In Embassies Program, the District of Columbia Art Bank, and public art in Crystal City, Virginia. She has twice been the recipient of the Individual Artist Fellowship grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
As Curator of the District of Columbia City Hall Art Collection, she assembled a remarkable collection of art that includes many of the finest artists who have lived in the nation’s capitol. As the largest collection of regional art on display in Washington, DC, it constitutes a unique resource and hangs permanently in the John A. Wilson Building. She has curated many independent projects, regularly programs alternative arts spaces, and is deeply involved in the mid-Atlantic arts community.
Non-representative work attracts me because it is the evocation of something familiar that I seek. I work from what I have seen translated into form – often from the urban or natural landscape that I observe. The ethereal qualities of the materials I choose focuses my work on what is all around us. It strikes the viewer as organically familiar, but not entirely corporeal, or if corporeal, it is magnified a thousand-fold. Essentially my work is about seeing what cannot be seen. It is about looking so closely that you lose sight of visual reference points.
From large, fluid watercolors in the 1980s, to the labor-intensive, larger wax-based process of the present, my focus has always been on the interplay of color, transparency, texture and form. I am process-driven and my work is often about pushing the materials to new forms. The work operates between the familiar and the obtuse, and speaks to viewers beyond the perceptual filters systemic to cultural, religious, political and artistic traditions. My imagination allows me to make something new of the world around me.
Currently, wax, shellac and inks are interleaved to make very thin paintings (on very thin industrial surfaces) look like they hold worlds of depth. The wax layers are interlaced with tinted shellac and/or ink layers to amplify the depth of the work. Brushes are used to swiftly paint the molten wax onto the prepared panel, often only a few strokes at a time, for the wax cools very quickly. Tinted shellac is applied to some or all of the surface, dried, and parts are burned away with a torch leaving the designs you see. They are intended to work in groups with the grids composed to harmonic dialogues of nearly infinite permutations. It is this chattering conversation, the abstraction of linear and organic forms, the symphonic beauty of the painting as object that compels me.
My central series since 2011 (Permutations Toward Infinity) offer a Mandelbrot fractal-like beauty. To explain the permutations: each group of nine images presents a virtually infinite potential of visual patterns. Each grid, not just interchangeable but rotatable to all four orientations, can be rearranged into a vast number of aesthetically viable patterns—with the absolute permutations from any single grid being over 95 billion (N!*4N = 95,126,814,720).
Why is this cool to me? Because it means there are other solutions, other viewpoints than the one I might present, which is one of my tenets of life. It also means that you could rearrange a grid every hour of every day of your life without repeating. It means that our ways of observing are infinitely beautiful.