Finding Traces

Cracked asphalt, stained sidewalks, forgotten 
 infrastructure — they’re the remnants of urban society we tend to disregard and take for granted — unless we’re looking down.

These lowly subjects are glorified in the works of Los Angeles-based painter Ingrid Calame, whose “Tarred Over Cracks” arrives Nov. 16 as the next installment in MOCA Jacksonville’s Project Atrium series. Calame’s installation is on display through March 9.

“The tarred-over cracks, you know, we walk over them all the time and wouldn’t notice them particularly,” Calame said. “When you raise them up, it elevates them. It makes them look like a picture, and it brings them to your consciousness in a different way.”

Since the early 1990s, Calame’s map-like paintings have brought heightened artistry to everything from stained walkways and wall graffiti from along the Los Angeles River to tire tracks from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, each translated exactly in
one-to-one ratio.

“I think it has to do with the very fundamental idea that I could map the whole world,” Calame said. “The impossibility of making a map of the whole world in one-to-one scale, in a lifetime — the futility and the grandiosity of that attracted me to it.”

Long before the first drops of paint touch Calame’s brushes, each of her abstract pieces is conceived in reality using precise, painstaking tracing methods. With the help of several assistants, Calame traces ground cracks, stains and imperfections in pencil onto architectural Mylar in actual scale. This process alone can take weeks to complete.

Calame then cleans the enormous Mylar tracings and layers them atop one another in her studio, assigning a color to each layer as she retraces them onto what she calls “constellations” on one combined sheet. She then meticulously perforates the markings onto a new top sheet, creating a pounce pattern through which pigment is blotted with varied saturation. Most of her paintings develop from there into gallery-sized works.

The giant canvas of the Haskell Atrium Gallery provides Calame her first opportunity to showcase an entire tracing in one piece, rather than in multiple layers on a much smaller scale.

“In the opportunity at MOCA Jacksonville, I’ll use the specificity of the architecture as a viewfinder for the whole scale of the tracing,” Calame said. “It’s really exciting because I’ll get to see the scale that I’m working on. My studio is not as big as that wall.”

Calame hadn’t actually seen the gallery space at MOCA Jacksonville before her installation began in early November, which meant she prepared to exhibit one of her largest works from more than 2,000 miles away.

“Working on this scale and from afar challenges Ingrid and other artists to have to work in different ways and use a different process than they’ve normally tried,” said Ben Thompson, curator at MOCA.

Project Atrium, founded in 2011 and funded in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, provides both emerging and more established mid-career artists a large canvas on which to advance and hone their skills in new ways.

“[Project Atrium] allows visitors to see an artist’s work in a new light, based on how they’ve had to adapt to the scale of the space,” Thompson said. “People may have seen Ingrid’s work before, but this piece will be different.”

Though Calame seeks tracing muses without personal sentimental value, the final products often mean more to her than the objects they represent.

“I’m working on a painting with the parking lot lines right now, and I’m thinking about color relationships and human relationships merging and un-merging — you know, differentiation,” she said. “With the parking lot for the atrium, I’m thinking about spider webs. It turns into something completely different. I did not look at the parking lot and think about human relationships or spider webs!”

For Calame, the relationship between repaired tarred cracks in a parking lot and the lack of human control over the state of our planet is analogous to her own control over the tracing process of her work and the outcomes of her final products.

“Life isn’t long enough to do everything that you want to do. Something that’s really important to me that I’m just learning as I get older is to let it be easy, you know, like, let the work talk to you,” she said. “Sometimes I have an intention in my head, and I just have to follow these stray threads. I have systems, but then the systems fall apart, and that’s an important part of the process.”