Louisville-based artist Letitia Quesenberry’s spacious studio in Portland is packed full of various artifacts that testify to the countless hours Quesenberry puts into her work. There are large table saws, an assortment of tools for cutting a variety of substances, plywood shaped into white frames, colored gel transparencies, and previous works of all sizes.
Often an object seems to exist alongside its past and future self, as in the case of plywood situated near an unpainted plywood shadow box frame, which sits next to a luminous white frame, which is in turn only a few feet away from a finished piece of art; a hypnotic shifting field of color, bound and contained by one of those white shadow boxes.
“I call them light boxes, but they are combinations of different things ‘cause they are flat, but they have depth…. it’s all pretty much about the interaction of color,” Quesenberry said. “It’s hard to describe; I actually balk at words.”
Among the rest of the organized chaos, there is a full, gallery-white wall where Quesenberry has hung the works she is considering for inclusion in (((heat))), which opened earlier this month at Quappi Projects, at its new location in Nulu. (((heat))) is Quesenberry’s first solo exhibition in Louisville since 2013’s “Notes to the Future,” at Zephyr Gallery.
Quesenberry has not been missing from the Louisville arts scene. Her work appears all over town in diverse places that range from coffee shop walls to onstage with the Louisville Ballet.
Since graduating from art school at the University of Cincinnati in 2003, Quesenberry’s practice has been an ongoing transmutation. She first studied drawing and printmaking, and some of her first work out of college does indeed feature drawings and graphite; but she quickly moved into other media and materials.
“It’s like everything I find, I’m like, I love this, I want to do this for a while. I just kind of stumble around. Now I’m sort of combining all of the parts I’ve learned, ” Quesenberry said.
(((heat))) is made up mostly of pieces from Quesenberry’s ongoing “Hyperspace” series, which she started in 2015. The “light boxes” are fashioned from wood, lacquer, LED lights, acrylic, and colorful transparencies much like those used in theatrical lighting. The finished product has such a clean and streamlined look, it almost looks simple. But the process of creation is quite labor intensive, which starts with Quesenberry making all of the frames for the light boxes by hand.
“It’s basically four layers of plywood. Each [frame] gets cut and then it’s laminated, and lots of sanding and filing … I love using my hands, I love building things. And being a part of every step is kind of important,” she said.
The effect is entrancing, and in many ways very different from the other works scattered about her studio.
But given the right frame, it’s easy to draw a line from the oldest work in the room to the newest. A single piece from her 2010 series, “Peeled,” hangs in the space. The piece was created using dye sublimated printing on aluminum sheets. It’s a deeply personal work, and the only large work in the studio that has any sort of literal meaning.
“They are based on Polaroids that I took mostly of myself,” said Quesenberry. “I was going through a pretty rough time and I was just marking days. Basically taking a Polaroid a day for 60 days.”
Quesenberry then peeled back the layers of the Polaroid, and scanned into a computer one of the layers she found. On that layer only the barest hint of a picture remains.
Staring at “Peeled,” one starts to sink into the color, and find the same sort of hypnosis created by the Hyperspace series.
Contemplation of color is one link between these works; the other is the Polaroid itself.
It’s a quick journey from the actual Polaroid used in creating “Peeled” to the faux Polaroid frame Quesenberry uses in multiple series of work including “Unicorn Meadow,” “How This Came to Be,” “Little Darlins,” and “As of Yet.”
“At a certain point [the Polaroids] began to represent the struggle to hold on to something a little bit, while also experiencing its fullness,” she said.
The Polaroid frame becomes a formal element; a frame that acknowledges that it is a frame, and that says it’s linked to memory. By doing so it’s freed from having to literally present memories.
Seeing works from “Unicorn Meadow” hanging just a few feet away from the pieces of the “Hyperspace” series, it is clear that the formal idea of the Polaroid frame mutated into the white borders around the lightboxes.
Many of the works in the pseudo-Polaroids are fields of color and shape, which lead to the same contemplative interaction.
“It’s really just about trying to be really present, and just kind of experience the thing you’re in front of,” said Quesenberry.
The artist’s process reflects that same contemplation.
“It’s mostly just an experience of yourself perceiving,” she said.
(((heat))) hangs at Quappi Projects until September 6. PLEASE NOTE: Quappi Projects has moved from its Portland location to its new home in Nulu, 827 East Market Street. The entrance to the gallery is through the gated courtyard next to the building. Quappi Project’s hours are Thursday’s 12pm to 4pm, Fridays 12pm to 5pm, Saturdays 11am to 3pm, and by appointment.