The luminous constructions of Rebecca Welz appear to have been made both by nature and by hand. Composed of folded sheets of Plexiglas, the sculptures translucently glow as light passes through them. The mechanics of their making are relatively simple: Welz heats and then folds the fiberglass, which has been previously sanded. The work is then stained with oil paint and re-sanded by hand, after which it is again stained, but not so heavily that the light is blocked from traveling through the piece. There is a lovely patina on the surface of the sculptures, the consequence of their staining, but they also bear the scratches incurred as the result of sanding. The shapes of the sculptures remind the viewer of the nautilus shell, built upon segmented chambers that coil or uncoil to form their overall shape. Mostly hung from the ceiling, Welz’s works feel like inspired pieces of natural architecture, fragments of a totality only rarely realized in life.
In fact, the closest analogy to these works is found in stained glass, whose luminescence radiates a spirituality that is, perhaps, not so very far from Welz’s own intentions. It is interesting to think of the work as conversing with both the leisurely organicism of nature and the faster, more right-angled productions of culture, present in the sculptures’ nod to such manmade forms as waterwheels or windmills. The ethereality of Welz’s colors—greens, blues, oranges, reds, and yellows—suggests a primarily transcendent understanding of form, while the shapes themselves hover between what might occur in the world and what might occur in the mind. As the sculptures slowly twist and turn in the spotlights hung from the gallery’s ceiling, the viewer imagines a world that is slowly evolving, changing over time in the same way a natural form might eventually change in response to its being used for a differing purpose. If it is true that form most often mediates experience rather than becoming the experience itself, it would hold true that Welz offers us works that point to the way nature develops and expands its shapes—without asserting that art must stand for something other than what it is.
It is this resistance to symbolic assertion that characterizes, indeed strengthens, the subtle yet resolute diffusion of form that occurs so regularly in Welz’s work. At the same time, it must be said that while Welz eschews the notion of a language meant to suggest something other than form—the sculptures are what they are—it is also true that she rejects the idea of a cramped literalism in which what you see is merely what you get. In Hot Moon (2002), two coiled forms—the top mostly a reddish orange and the bottom mostly a dusky blue—pirouette from a cable attached to the ceiling; they are at once beautiful and ever so slightly mysterious. And in Falling (2002), we can see three pieces floating atop each other, stopped from their descent as if suspended, momentarily, in mid-fall. Finally, in Orb Triad (2002), the viewer encounters a large coil suspended between two smaller ones. There is a suggestion here, as there often is in Welz’s pieces, of incompletion: the truncated coils look as though they are fragments of a composition that has just exploded or is about to complete itself.
Welz is an artist clearly given to beauty—a dangerous subject these days. Her sculptures are remarkable for their steady poise and address of formal values, without which they might be no more than discarded scraps. Of course we recognize that the contemporary aesthetic finds the part greater than the whole; however, we are also aware that this perception is a couple of centuries old, being a hallmark of the Romantic eye. As Welz’s work shifts and sways in the gallery, we realize that we are being offered a view of things that suggests both the old and the new, the unfinished and the realized. Beauty is an especially difficult thing to achieve in these days of theory and willful political interpretation, yet Welz takes her chances. It would be easier for her to move with current tendencies in art rather than against or around them, just as it would be easier for her to make art that fulfilled only one goal or intention. We are lucky, then, that the artist sees her role as richly diverse, as the consequence of a process more than usually complex.