Color and pattern are fundamental instruments in the work of Chicago-based artist Judy Ledgerwood (American, born 1959)—attributes she has been dynamically refining in her oversized canvases, installations, and ceramics since the 1980s.
For over 30 years her work has been distinguished by a visual vocabulary comprising intentionally decorative motifs that, at times, extend well beyond the edge of the canvas, taking over entire walls or rooms. Ledgerwood derives the circles, quatrefoils, and seedlike forms that often populate her work from symbolic shapes associated with Paleolithic and Neolithic goddess cultures throughout Europe, though they also recall patterns used in fashion, design, and the decorative arts.
“My work challenges the authority of the grid by creating paintings that provoke an optical experience often characterized by afterimages, retinal fatigue, and other fugitive, ephemeral, and transient experiences that cannot be predicted, controlled, or legislated,” says Ledgerwood. Using intense colors, she organizes the forms within triangles and chevrons that the artist perceives as ciphers of feminine power.
This spring Ledgerwood’s work occupies the Art Institute’s Bluhm Family Terrace, covering the vertical surfaces in a pink vinyl painted with her signature quatrefoil pattern in gold enamel paint. Central to the installation is the artist’s sustained interest in the relationship between pictorial space and the physical space that contains the work: in this case, the painting depends on the architecture for its structure while also directly challenging it. The pink background, installed in long, horizontal washes of color, gently sags in the center, appearing as if it were a textile pinned at the upper corners. These pink curves filled with floral motifs rebel against the terrace’s strict, vertical architectural elements, while the gold paint—reflective, drippy, and distinctly material—activates the otherwise neutral modernist space.
Chromatic Patterns for the Art Institute of Chicago reaches beyond painting to alter the experience of the space. Indeed the experience itself is heavily mediated by the specific color that defines the space, informally referred to as “drunk tank pink,” which has a proven calming effect on those exposed to it. The profound physical, mental, and emotional effects of color are essential both to this particular installation and to Ledgerwood’s entire body of work.