Lockhart Gallery artwork invites audience to investigate meanings found under the surface

The Lockhart Gallery’s first exhibit of 2018 is now open to the public. 

“Coded Messages,” created by Washington, D.C. based artist and former mathematics teacher Joyce Wellman, features a series of heterogeneous abstract paintings. 

Her works, which portray a stream of consciousness through the use of vibrant colors, numbers, geometric shapes and letters, pay homage to her mother’s passion for numbers and the history of women in mathematics. Her mother played the daily numbers game, according to Wellman. She had a book of numbers that went as far back as 1949. Back then, this lottery game could be played for just a dime.

For its first exhibit of the semester, the Lockhart Gallery featured creations made by artist Joyce Wellman in a display entitled “Coded Messages” on Wednesday Jan. 24. Wellman was inspired by multiple muses throughout her artistic process, specifically her mother who loved numbers. “Coded Messages” will be open in the Lockhart Gallery until March 8. (Annalee Bainnson/Photo Editor)

“My mother always worked with the decimal system; zero to nine,” Wellman said. “In [the painting “Looking for 0’s and 1’s,”] where you have the binary system, what I’m thinking about is collapsing and bringing things down to basics: zeros and ones. Usually I have a lot of colors, but I tried to break it down.” 

In another piece titled “Balance Master,” Wellman incorporates the use of the pentagon, which has five sides of reflecting symmetry. The painting represents feelings like intuition and security.

The painting “Hidden Hands 2” stems from the artist’s childhood passion for board games. As of late, she has become devoted to the popular Scrabble-type mobile application, “Words with Friends.” A close examination of the painting reveals grids in the background similar to the word game. Wellman asserted that in the background of the piece there were several layers of meaning. When asked what the meaning was, she smiled. “That’s for me to know and for you to figure out.”

The internal drive for the viewer to decipher the paintings’ meanings coincides with the exhibit’s name. The phrase “Coded Messages” came to her during a vivid dream where someone stole President Donald Trump’s clothes and ran away. While looking for his clothes, he ended up in her studio and came across her artwork. “Oh,” he said in the dream. “This is the code!”

Another painting, “They vs. They,” deals with ambiguousness. When referring to a person as ‘they,’ we could be talking about anyone; our enemies or our friends, as Wellman explained. There is no set identity for the word, which makes it complex. 

The inspiration for the painting came during the 2012 election when Republican candidate Mitt Romney controversially commented that 47 percent of Americans would vote for the president no matter what. The numbers “47” and “one” can be seen on the painting as well.

Something that makes Wellman’s paintings so distinct is how she mixes materials. On her paintings, there is pencil, crayon and acrylics. One of her most interesting pieces, “Code Eight,” incorporates the use of corrugated cardboard. Cardboard, she believes, has the unique ability of conveying memory to the viewers. The artist mentioned a past show runner who had seen her painting and said that it had reminded him of the time when he used cardboard to make a toy car as a little boy. 

“I want the work not to be about the artist as much as the viewer, and what kind of dialogue can be exchanged,” Wellman said.

“Coded Messages” is an exhibit that allows onlookers to experience the poetic and natural forces that guide Wellman’s abstract art. The vivacious and eclectic pieces will be on display at the Lockhart Gallery until March 8, and the exhibit is open to the public.