ORDER AND CHAOS dance in precarious equilibrium in Andrea Way's work, several recent examples of which are on view at Marsha Mateyka Gallery. But do her elaborately layered, paint-and-ink-on-paper abstractions start from order and move in the direction of chaos, gradually introducing decay into preordained systems by means of such automatic drawing techniques as the gyroscopic children's art-toy known as the Doodletop pen? Or, rather, does the artist begin with what the gallery's press release coyly calls "seemingly random actions," dropping ink into blobs of water, from whose marks she tweezes out and builds up underlying, hidden structures? Mere observation would seem insufficient to suss out the answer.
After all, it is the question itself -- or rather the push-me-pull-you between the two answers -- that exhilarates.
Andrea Way's works seem to walk the thin line between order and disorder. Details of her abstractions "Vocalise," top, and "Broken Ocean."
(Marsha Mateyka Gallery)
Like dance, Way's art seems set to a kind of tune, a tune that sometimes threatens to fall apart but never does. No wonder, then, that her titles occasionally suggest musical composition: "Bel Canto," "Vocalise," and "Cantare." Or that they just as often call to mind swirling choreography: "Gyrohive," "Whirlabout," and "Spinning Light." Nature is also a big inspiration: "Spring Moraine," "Eel River," "Broken Ocean" and "Advancing Spring."
All of these things -- music, dance, nature -- involve systems. And systems, of course, be they mathematical, musical or cosmological, imply not only structure, but its breakdown. Stars collapse in on themselves. Songs are more than a mere repetition of rhythmic notes, but the deviation from the backbeat we call melody. And numerical formulas can be used to describe everything from the architecture of the chambered nautilus to the movement of cigar smoke.
What is so fertile about Way's newest work is how it evokes all of this at once: man-made structures at one turn (as in the warp-and-weft "fabric" of "Vocalise") and the organic (as in the slippery, undulating lampreys of "Eel River").
Whether they call to mind water-washed pebbles, church mosaics or galaxies far, far away, when we look at Way's pictures, or when we listen to music for that matter, we don't so much see (or hear) the patterns as we feel them. The math, in other words, is invisible. There may be a kind of crazy kind of logic underlying the lunacy of her paintings, which are both strangely placid and teeming with life, but it's a latent one.
Put another way, it's the beautiful madness -- and not the method behind it -- that we see.
ANDREA WAY: NEW WORK -- Through March 26 at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-328-0088. www.marshamateykagallery.com. Open Wednesday-Saturday 11 to 5. Free.