Words > Monograph, art journal, exhibition literature


Reverence for both risk and balance infuses Betsy Chaffin’s latest body of work.
Viscous, seductive and somewhat impassive backgrounds seem to hold the visual narratives in the paintings much as the concept “life” holds our human one. This ground of tar and gesso absorbs and anchors Chaffin’s persistent marks; like mature skin, it is a scarred and weathered record of the life-span of the painting’s making.

Bradley Walker Tomlin’s elegiac abstractions from the Post World War II era provide an apt modernist ancestry for Chaffin’s paintings both in terms of their insistence on personal mythology over art world trends and in their lyrical manipulation of architectural and natural forms.

Chaffin’s process mirrors the cyclical and cumulative energies in nature—her gestures spiral, collect, drip and imbed. Time forms the form here as tiny x’s tick over the surface and gather into the webs and screens of her compositions.

The rustic color signals a desire for harmony even as the obsessive mark-making suggests randomness, conflict and pathos, perhaps over the mutability of our experience of time. The power in these paintings and drawings comes from Chaffin’s tension between surrender and rebellion.

The monotypes are a great foil for the paintings. Fresh and more up-tempo, they seem made of sky rather than skin. Chaffin responds to this experiment-friendly medium with more specificity from piece to piece. Each print has a unique energy and color system. Produced in the concentrated and limited time of a professional print studio, this body of work reflects that hit-the-ground running spirit. Color is the primary communicator in these, keyed up to require our initial attention to the odd and beautiful chromatic relationships. More playful than the paintings, the rhythms here are reversed as well—outward and musical and quick.

Ambiguity is not indecision in this new work, but supports the poignant narrative of how both landscape and those that live in it morph imperceptibly into new forms. It’s not that things are ‘not what they seem’, but that they are essentially un-seeable. As days collect to form lives, Chaffin paints towards knowing.

Markings/Betsy Chaffin