Nina Tichava’s mixed-media paintings, now on exhibit at Park City’s Gallery MAR, are so easy to look at, so enticing to the hungry eye, that one might dismiss them too easily as mere eye candy, as inconsequential props in an interior designer’s stage set. And they are sweet to the first taste, seductive to the visual touch; but these large abstract canvases are also intricate and layered, providing ample complexity to the sustained gaze and nuances of flavor for the sophisticated visual palate.
Tichava is from Santa Fe, where she grew up in the home of what she describes as “hippie parents,” where weaving, beading and mixing paints was part of her upbringing. She went to art school with the intention of becoming a graphic designer, but was diverted when she took a painting class and fell in love with the “romance of it.” The titles of her work, like “Love is the whole thing” and “The night was busy making the moon,” betray that romanticism, and Tichava creates works that unabashedly explore visual splendor.
Her Gallery MAR exhibit is titled “It is all Just a Love Contest” and the works explode with energy and spirit. Overall, the paintings have a warm and naturalistic feel, shades of white and brown calling to mind this varying time of year in the mountains, where melting snow and dormant flora create shifting patterns; but Tichava also employs bright primary colors, streaks of fire engine red and lemon yellow that intersect the canvases in crisp, unfettered bands. This undercurrent of strict geometry surfaces in other compositional elements, like the line of brass beading that bisects some of the canvases, or the compass-perfect circles that form the dominant compositional element in others. It’s as if Tichava is getting in touch with the graphic design classes she forgot to take in art school.
This juxtaposition of the natural with the geometric, of the earth tones with the primaries, provides much of the sustained play that makes these works enjoyable beyond the first savor. Washed layers of textured paint are banded by perfectly straight, opaque lines. Splotches of sky blue float across stenciled floral motifs. A layer of snow-white beading characterizes much of the work: it covers but it also reveals, acting as a drawing material to create leaf-shaped forms out of negative grounds. It’s like viewing the landscape vaguely, through a rain-streaked window or a veil of aspen trunks. What lies beneath the layers is not immediately clear so that your eye is constantly engaged in what is the mask and what the ground.
These days it is only through strenuously achieved views or careful editing that we are able to capture a landscape devoid of manufactured elements: telephone poles, roads, crop circles and bike baths intrude on much of what we think of as the “natural world.” In the end, though, as these abstract works suggest, man is no less part of nature than the wind, his strict geometry as integral a part of our experience as the shifting clouds and rising tides.