Janet Trierweiler’s minimal abstract expressionist paintings are a lot like calligraphy: she only has one shot at getting it right.
Janet Trierweiler, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute, has been a fine artist for more than 25 years, and her Evanston home studio is filled with canvases. “Something that’s very important about my experience as an artist is that I’ve been committed. There’s nothing else I could have done. It’s tied so much to philosophy and simplicity and lifestyle,” she says.
A consistent element of Trierweiler’s work is her decision to limit her scope. “I like traditional mediums,” she says—she prefers oil paints—though a hallmark of her work is her tendency to use those traditional materials in untraditional ways. Trierweiler identifies as an abstract expressionist and prefers to experiment with form rather than the human figure.
Abstract expressionism, a post-World War II predecessor of surrealism born in New York City, is generally anti-figurative and emotionally intense—more of an event than a static visual impression. Trierweiler’s painterliness falls along these lines; she arranges pigment in masses rather than shapes, and even the loosest handling of color is planned before she begins to make a mark. The paintings finish themselves a while after she’s walked away from the canvas: Galkyd, the medium Trierweiler uses to thin her oil paints, yellows over time, and she works her color palette so that the curing process will soften the final product. She refers to this approach as her “elemental” work, focusing on how the painted and blank areas of the canvas interact with one another.
Her elemental series is predominantly minimal, and works to create a relationship between immaterial and material space more than anything else. Tightly composed on textured natural canvas, Trierweiler limits the amount of marks she allows herself; she also restricts herself to one or two colors at a time, mostly in drab or natural pigments—burnt sienna, blue, a vegetal emerald green. Trierweiler maintains a daily drawing practice and sketches out each canvas before she begins to paint, but even though they are the result of meticulous planning, the elemental series appears largely spontaneous: color is scraped and flung and jerked and splattered, creating areas of light and dark intensity. The resulting liquid density is underscored by blank areas that emerge on the canvas like chains of uninhabited islands; the minimal compositions have a way of creeping up on the viewer, reminding them to just stand still for minute.
“There’s lots to explore when you limit yourself—to explore the organic against the geometric,” Trierweiler says. “It’s really about meeting the painting halfway; you might discover something outside of yourself, exploring that space [outside of your head].”
She initially began to explore the immaterial/material minimal relationship with fellow artist Matthew Schaefer; at first they painted together on the same canvas, and then they painted separately though on the same theme, prompting each other with increasingly restrictive parameters.
“All the preparation goes into the form,” Trierweiler says. “Sometimes more than one form, but very elemental. It’s really about preparing and getting into that space; if you can find that space, it shows up in the paint.”
The last step in Trierweiler’s process is a 24-hour cooling-off period she refers to as “the walk away,” meant to keep her initial judgment from interfering with the culmination of the marks she’s made on the canvas.
“These paintings are really a meditative, sensual experience, and I want to prevent myself from interfering with what happens,” she explains, adding that the impulse to edit while painting is something she has trained herself to avoid. It’s a sentiment that’s closely aligned with minimalist abstract painter Ad Reinhardt’s belief that “the eye is a menace to clear sight.”
Trierweiler’s attention to energy as opposed to manipulating images—she is also a feng shui designer—continues throughout the hanging process, where she often overlaps the edges of different canvases so that the colorful gestures can bridge from one image to the next.
“They create really interesting patterns on the wall and a beautiful space in the room,” she says. “The wall becomes part of the art.”
Janet Trierweiler lives and paints in Evanston. For more information about her work, visit janettrierweiler.com.