Beauty has its own intelligence, its own evolving, complex symmetries, and, yes, its lavish delights. This is the ground Trudy Kraft has explored in her paintings over the last twenty years.

Kraft's new work reveals the mature integration of her lifelong absorption of a generous range of influences. Her sources include traditional arts of Japan, the visual culture of Hispanic America, Australian Aboriginal dream paintings, and such daring color-masters as the Fauvists Kees van Dongen and Andre Derain, and Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

During several long stays in Japan (her husband, Kenneth Kraft, is a scholar of Buddhism), Kraft built on her training in Western figurative art, studying sumi-e, the art of Japanese brush and ink painting. While there she began a series of fans, freely painted but constructed by traditional craftsmen, in a striking synthesis of two cultures. But it was the decorative borders found in Japanese prints, fabric and architecture that affected her the most. Those borders stayed with her: in the checkerboard pattern undulating through the painting Phosphorescence," border has engulfed the center, suggesting the pattern-distending folds of antique cloth.

These latest works are most frankly and deeply flavored by Kraft's experience of the Southwest and Mexico: from childhood stays in the art community of Taos and family trips to Oaxaca, to several long artist's residencies in the desert landscape of Arizona's Rancho Linda Vista. The spiky flowering forms pushing up from the lower sections of several of these paintings recall the yucca (as well as the Buddhist lotus!), and their colors -- brick red, sky blue and earth yellow -- flaunt the saturated intensity of the Southwestern landscape.

An implicit cosmology can be discerned in paintings such as "Along the Mora," much as you will find underlying maps of meaning in the patterned forms of a Navajo sand painting or Buddhist mandala. Here, the lushly vegetative lower quadrant is balanced at the top by a bobbing line of domes: earth and sky, connected by a waving vibrational matrix in the center that could be rain, or waterfall (another Buddhist allusion), or energy itself. Passages like these move close to the visionary qualities of, say, shamanicart of the Mexican Huichol.

Like such Pattern & Decoration artists as Miriam Schapiro and Robert Zakanitch, Kraft embraces the associations of her strong patterning with such traditional women's arts as embroidery and weaving. Her technique, too, suggests a kind of over-and-under "weaving" of the painting's surface: laying in washes of pure color, creating fluid, batik-like negative areas with frisket (a masking medium), and revisiting these with the smoky sumi ink and opaque gouache accents.

In their flowing layers and luminous encrustations, these paintings thus convey both worldview and the ecstasy of visual pleasure-making. Shadow and color, figure and ground, meaning and presence -- all these aspects of Trudy Kraft's work are as intimately interwoven as beauty and delight.

Miriam Seidel
Amarillo Museum of Art

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