February 18th, 2020
By Veronica Vale
Laura Wait answers the phone with warmth and excitement in her voice. Gallery MAR just sold her painting, “Red Plum Moon” — Laura Wait’s first Park City sale since joining the Gallery MAR team earlier this year. It’s no surprise that this painting sold so quickly. With its lively colors, intriguing brush marks, unique symbols, and ample layers of texture, it perfectly exemplifies everything collectors have come to know and love about Laura Wait’s work.
This dazzling display of color feels almost paradoxically spontaneous yet measured. Such a style is fitting for someone practiced in calligraphy and mark making. Laura Wait espouses the benefits of studying calligraphy and symbolism as a way of learning the rules before breaking them: “It’s good to study calligraphy,” she elaborates, “but it can be dangerous, too. Some calligraphers can break out of the mold, but not everyone can.” She worries that one can miss out on individuality if they rely too heavily on perfectly practiced form.
Laura Wait posits handwriting as a mold-breaking solution to calligraphy’s restraints. She explains how “handwriting is what you use everyday. It’s more freeform, and it has more of your own character.”
The word “character” well encompasses Laura Wait’s work. Each piece is highly unique and enduringly interesting, incorporating shapes, symbols, and mark making from a plethora of different cultures. She considers herself a proud student of these cultures and their symbols and is inspired by their mark making:
“It’s really interesting to me,” she says, “I do a lot of work with a brush. I’ll start writing backwards (left to right) which is the way that Arabic is written, or I’ll go up and down like in Asian writing. The brush actually seems to work more naturally for me when I work this way.” She believes that writing in such different, often exaggerated ways, “gets more in touch with your brain,” which makes the marks on her canvas more interesting and fresh as opposed to overly refined.
In addition to her studies in calligraphy and symbolism, Wait has also spent much of her career studying printmaking and bookbinding. Wait spent four years studying traditional bookbinding and printmaking in London with the idea that bookbinding would support a fine art practice. She remembers how “it was always in the back of mind that I would eventually be a painter, but bookbinding took over for many years. I had been making artist books with paintings in them and each book had about 40 paintings each, and finally I thought, ‘Why don’t I just put the paintings on the wall?’
Transitioning from painting for books to painting for walls took some adjustment. Wait explains, “I start out the same way, but a painting in a book ends up being composed of more parts, and it has to be viewed more as part of a whole, whereas with a painting in a gallery, I have to have this feeling where, when I see it, I have to really like it by itself.”
Wait’s background in printmaking and bookbinding coupled with her broad cultural study and practice enhances her already unique process. Wait begins her work with a collection of materials (torn paper, cut-up images, etc.) that she layers across the canvas. In between these layers, she begins her signature mark-making, alternating masterfully between intentionally obscured calligraphic strokes and bold abstract marks. Layers and layers of this mark making, painting, scraping, transferring, and printmaking techniques give her work its complexity and depth. Each painting is born of her fascination with “hand-eye-touch,” emerging as culminations of “an intuitive connection with things, with mark making, and with calligraphy.”
Along with ancient writing and handwriting, Wait also finds inspiration in modern day graffiti, or as some artists have termed it, “calligraphiti.” Her favorite artists, London-based artist Jose Parla and LA- based artist RETNA, began their careers as graffiti artists. After all, Wait muses “a lot of graffiti is handwriting.”
Like the abstract expressionists she’s inspired by, Wait has mastered the art of symbolism without overt, obvious meaning. Wait’s paintings are subtler than the symbols she employs, with their meanings a little more obscured. While she often uses real symbols and letters in her work, she does so in a way that subverts their meaning, favoring their form instead. By stripping each individual symbol of its full original meaning, she encourages viewers to see the work as a whole (much like she views each page of her art books as pieces of a whole). With these symbols and colors, comfortingly familiar, yet achingly unrecognizable, she asks her viewers to sit with her right on the edge of meaning.