Optical Wonder

Colleen Quigley’s Islamic inspired Art

Exploring spatial relationships, color and light, perception of memory (time and place) and materiality of art, Dubai-based artist Colleen Quigley’s work combines the machine made and the hand-made to highlight the physical and psychological experience in looking at and experiencing art. Colleen is a Japanese-American artist with BFA in Sculpture and a MFA in Printmaking. She arrived in Dubai about twelve years ago and has been teaching visual art studio classes to Emirati female students at Zayed University since then.  

Her exhibition ‘Searching for Optical Wonder’ is a culmination of investigations in encaustic (beeswax and resin), ceramics, and laser cut acrylic. It combines Islamic patterns and the mediums of encaustic, collage, ceramics, reflective materials and laser cut acrylics. The Mashallah Red, Blue, and Yellow Series combine hundreds of hand-printed and glazed, small ceramic hexagonal tiles embedded in milky, translucent encaustic which float up at different depths creating a visual and harmonious sensory perception of color and light. The process of cutting, firing, printing, glazing and ultimately embedding the tiles in wax invites the viewer to reflect on process and patience in artmaking.

Encaustic is a process involving the use of heated beeswax to which pigments and damar resin are added and applied to a hardboard surface and then fused into a uniform enamel-like finish.  The word encaustic originates from Greek and means “to burn in” and this method is thousands of years old.  Colleen elaborates on this technique “The Fayum funeral portraits from Greco-Roman Egypt are an enduring example of encaustic. Three dimensional and subtle atmosphere effects can be crafted by a manipulation of the process. Images must be applied one stroke and one layer at a time as the hot wax hardens quickly once the heat source is removed. I employ an additive and subtractive process fusing, scraping, pouring, and burnishing to create a painterly and luminous surface to my artwork. I also wanted to combine the machine made (laser cut) with the handmade (encaustic, ceramics, painting and printmaking).  I think it is important to include new technologies like laser cutting but also to keep my own hand in making art.”

The Reflecting Blue, Yellow and Red series are the results of experiments with multiple compositions which uses Islamic patterns, reflective materials and laser cut acrylic.  These works focus on repetition and continuous variation and juxtaposition of color and pattern. 

“My interest lies in sensorial effect and perception of what the color is in isolation, in changing light and how color appears to us in a context with another color within a given shape – its resulting interaction and our sensory perception of it. The use of reflective materials creates a momentary flash as if to announce the arrival or presence of something of note. The pieces are meant to capture the attention of the viewers and then to interact with them as the perception of the reflecting surface changes depending on where the viewers’ position is in relation to them and the time of day. The Islamic motifs call attention to the presence and dynamism of Islamic cultural patterns in a multicultural setting”, she says.

Another collection, The Reflecting Wall consists of repeating intricately cut acrylic mirrored Islamic designs in which the viewers become part of the work and the reflections create new colors and reflections depending on where the viewer stands. “The laser-cut designs were borrowed from ancient Islamic door knockers and are meant to symbolically open doors to our memories”, explains Colleen. “The sky and water works draw attention on the interplay of culture and nature and are meant to encourage a dialogue on the importance of sustaining clean water and air particularly in the expanding development of Dubai.  The Islamic design silhouette serves as a sort of cultural lens that frames and focuses on invaluable but often taken for granted natural resources.  Another work Abracadabra is a triangular composition of letters that form the word Abracadabra and is meant to open your senses to perception and to prepare you for a visual spectacle”, she elaborates.

Colleen’s​ work is on display at private collections in Dubai, Japan, the UAE, and the United States.  Her research and interest draws upon popular culture and cultural identity, encounters between tradition and modernity, as well as post-modern strategies of artmaking in relation to themes of originality, art history and memory. “I am continuing to explore patterns, color and light and plan to experiment in the material of cast or slumped glass. I love the idea of working with local artisans in the future and think of ways of sustainability and artmaking through some kind of partnership,” she says.

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