“Naomi Schlinke: What You See” at Flatbed

The vibrant colors, organic forms, and transparency in the show’s captivating ink on paper works offer exotic archipelagos to explore

<i>Gilded Grove</i> (2016) by Naomi Schlinke
Gilded Grove (2016) by Naomi Schlinke

Whenever I work with ink, "bleed" is a dirty word. It means that the liquid I'm taking such care to control, to lay down with order and precision, has gone rogue. Like a river in flood, overflowing its banks, the ink spreads from the mark I've painstakingly delineated into areas it isn't supposed to go, and there it settles, bleeding into the paper to make what is to my eyes a chaotic, unsightly mess.

But after seeing Naomi Schlinke's current exhibition of ink on paper works at Flatbed (held over from the 2017 East Austin Studio Tour), I'm forced to reconsider my distaste for the word. "Bleed" is not just something that happens in the abstract images here; it is integral to their structures and where much of their beauty and fascination resides. Far from being ugly deviations from tidy designs, these bled shapes are their own organic forms, with delicate curls and veins and ridges, and your eye wants to follow their elaborate edges like a ship sailing along the coastline of an island. And because there are so many such shapes in each work, you feel as if you're exploring entire archipelagos, all teeming with life.

The life is signified by color – intensely vibrant color that will not only grab your eye but set it humming: fuchsia, teal, navy, rose, mustard, ruby, aubergine, azure, lemon, cornflower, chartreuse, crimson, ultramarine. ... Each seems to identify an individual species, exotic and wild, that's spread across the area on this paper (or map?) in a manner seemingly random and yet also somehow logical. And the profusion of each vivid life form in close proximity to so many others creates a veritable Galapagos in every one of these large, dense, captivating works.

Schlinke's use of ink also allows for degrees of transparency that enhance the interplay of the works' brilliant hues and create levels like those seen in the clear waters off tropical shores. For instance, in the piece Gilded Grove, the ocher "islands" appear to be floating on a surface layer, and through them we can see edges and at times the colors of the indigo and turquoise fields that lie below. Likewise, in Fracture, the broken blue columns rising from the base of the image are pale enough that we can glimpse a placid aqua field behind or beneath them. The effect is such that the longer you stare at these works (and I felt drawn to stare at them for a long time), the more you think you can dive into them – or at least wish you could.

According to the artist, she'll frequently work with several sheets of mulberry paper stacked on top of one another, specifically so ink might bleed from one sheet to another. As you move from piece to piece, you can occasionally see evidence of this: ghost shapes that have leapt from one image to another. They create subtle linkages among this body of work and give me one more reason to abandon my old prejudice against "bleed." Sometimes the most beautiful things happen when we let things spill over and go where they will.

“Naomi Schlinke: What You See”

Flatbed Studio & Gallery, 2832 E. MLK
Through Dec. 30

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