Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Jane Catlin: A Retrospective of Natural Wonder

A gallery room with several artworks by Jane Catlin on display. Four colorful abstract paintings are framed and hung on a white wall in a grid formation. A single large painting in warm tones is visible on the right wall labeled "1990-2000".

An early work by Jane Catlin (right) provides a contrast to her later works, which can be seen at the back.

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t associate these first, heavy paintings in oil with everything else that follows in the Harrison Museum of Art’s retrospective exhibition of Logan artist Jane Catlin. In this small alcove, a half-dozen eerie paintings in thick oil; throughout the rest of the gallery, works full of delicate lines, open spaces, and floating layers of translucent paint.

The works in the alcove were painted in the early ‘90s when Catlin, an Ogden native, returned to Utah after earning an MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design. Created at the time she began teaching in the art department at Utah State University, the oil paintings were inspired by the spiders she found invading her studio. They are disturbing, nightmare-inducing absorptions in the natural world that evoke both awe and discomfort: a daddy long leg emerges from the center of one painting; in another, giant egg sacs morph into human faces; and in a third, two human feet emerge from a cocoon of spider webbing. They are, appropriate to the era, a bit grunge. Scan the rest of the gallery, in which the touch is much lighter and ethereal, and you might think they were by a different artist.

Catlin traces a shift in her work to the trip she took to Mali in the late ‘90s. There she learned the bogolanfini technique, which involves using mud and a chemical fixative to create bold, geometric designs on cloth. Post-Mali, the discomfiting visualizations of an interior fear are gone, but not the fascination with the natural world. Close attention to detail and exploration of abstract patterns and design emerge as the works become much less subjective and more observational, reflecting a keen attention to natural systems and their interconnectedness.

A detailed black and white close-up of an abstract painting by Jane Catlin, featuring organic textures and patterns resembling honeycombs and fluid lines on a beige background.

Jane Catlin, “Coalesce II,” circa 2008, litho crayon on linen, 30 x 27 in.

This change in subject matter and focal point goes hand in hand with a new exploration of material: traditional oil painting disappears, and the artist begins drawing directly on raw linen with a litho crayon or painting translucent layers on sheets of mylar. This dynamic interplay between texture and form evokes the fluidity and complexity of natural systems. Several works feature vibrant, swirling compositions that blend organic shapes with delicate, web-like structures, suggesting a harmonious yet chaotic natural world. Others focus on almost microscopic details, drawing the viewer into a closer inspection, revealing layers of meaning and connection.

Monochromatic works emphasize form and shadow, creating a stark contrast that highlights the delicate balance between light and dark, structure and void. Some of these works combine intricate line work with touches of color, creating a tapestry-like effect that draws on botanical and entomological inspirations. Several works, rendered in shades of gray, focus on the cellular and structural aspects of organic life, offering a more scientific yet poetic view of nature.


Two large abstract black and white paintings by Jane Catlin displayed side by side. The paintings feature intricate textures, patterns, and fluid lines on a light background.

Catlin’s drawings on raw linen feature intricate textures, patterns, and fluid lines on a light background.


Four colorful abstract paintings by Jane Catlin framed and hung in a grid formation on a white wall. The artworks display intricate, organic patterns and textures with vibrant colors.

These colorful works were inspired by the artist’s time spent at a family cabin in Bolger, Canada.

Catlin is not afraid of color, and in an equally large body of work, she uses vivid hues to depict what appear to be ecosystems teeming with life. These compositions suggest an underwater or otherworldly environment, where various forms interact in a symbiotic dance. The paintings evoke a sense of movement and vitality, capturing the ever-changing nature of life.

With slight variations and evolutions, these works are what Catlin has explored for the last two decades of her career. They have been hung salon-style at the NEHMA, reflecting the abundant nature of her vision (additional flat files in the center of the exhibition allow the curious visitor to delve even deeper into the artist’s teeming visual world). The exhibit has been organized as a tribute to her career at the university: she retired in 2020. The often strange and mysterious imagery from her visual meditations serves as a poignant commentary on the mutating world, echoing its beauty and fragility.

Three colorful abstract paintings by Jane Catlin displayed side by side on a white wall. The artworks feature intricate patterns and textures with vibrant colors, incorporating elements that resemble honeycombs and natural forms.

These late works, executed in oil, represent a return to a form of narrative painting and reflect the artist’s concern about the environmental crisis.

Jane Catlin: A Retrospective, Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, through July 20

All images courtesy of the author

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