Kathryn Refi




by Lisa Kurzner, independent curator and writer
Essay taken from Color Recordings brochure 2006
Imagine Kathryn Refi's studio as a strategic nerve center of maps, lists and treatises outlining various journeys, from a trip to the grocery store to maneuvers in outer space. Her work investigates a particular problem: how to best define herself amidst the chaos and happenstance of daily life. It is an autobiographical practice that tangentially includes others as reference points. She sets parameters, casting a wide enough net to capture patterns and differences that provide the stuff of art. After playing out the hand, she can observe the results, leaving their interpretation to others.

Refi's latest work, Color Recordings (2005-2006), puts a new spin on her self-analytical process. The seven mural-sized oil paintings (61 x 100 inches each) consist of vertical stripes whose patterns represent the prevailing colors Refi experienced during each of seven days of a week. The recordings refer to a video tape made while she wore a small camera strapped to her head during all waking hours of the days described. Snippets of raw video material reveal mundane rituals of life, from teeth brushing to dog walking to sitting in the laundromat. A computer program tailored to the project allowed the artist to analyze the color content of her days into separate segments reflecting any of seven hundred twenty-nine colors she identified for this purpose. The data was then compiled into print outs which allowed her to determine the amount of each color to be represented in the paintings. Any color with a pixel count above 0.125% of the day's total was realized in paint. As in all Refi's work, the random intersects with the artist's universe and the end results are surprising even to Refi.

Following years of work made primarily in black and white, Refi took on color directly as the subject of this project. In these paintings, color is determined by cultural process rather than by any formalist considerations. For all the time she spent outdoors, Refi's hours at work and in dimly lit bars trumped the greenery producing a series of striped paintings in somber tones. Browns, plums, and almost-blacks envelope thin slices of sky blue and pale green. Although Refi could tweak selection within her prescribed system, the structure was deliberately put in place to avoid judging color on emotional terms. Created after the conscious lessons of postmodernism, the seven paintings in this exhibition are compelling in that they subvert visual expectations of the chosen large-scale format with their tones of quiet secrecy.

The serial, repetitive nature of Refi's work derives not only from a clinical urge, but also from a desire to define that region between the earthly and the absolute. Her work asks: how can one account for that which cannot be measured? As many artists of the minimalist generation have done, Refi relies on systemic strategies to realize artistic ends. What seems scientific in the work - the statistics, reports, visual documents - is in fact subjective information that attempts to define what we can never know. In the end, the journey, the process is what interests Refi and her viewers.
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