Artist Talks: Dirt, Earth and Painting.

By Bethani Wells

As a little girl, I took every opportunity to get my hands in the dirt. Here I am, in my twenties, still coming home covered in it. Of course, as a child I was just digging for worms. I liked the dirt because it was fun to play in and get messy. Today, I use dirt and organic matter as a medium for my paintings. I explore the relationship between earth and spirituality in my large-scale paintings, making earth a key element in my work. I gather dirt and organic matter beyond my backyard to the places on earth where my feet have wandered- West Palm Beach, FL, Savannah, GA, Jerusalem and Caesarea in Isreal and the Dominican Republic to name a few.

Most recently, I have had the opportunity to travel to Lacoste, in the south of France. Over the past two months here, I have been working on three sets of triptychs, as well as a video, inspired by Provence. A neighboring village called Roussillon, a little town painted in warm tones, is known for its yellow ochre and red clay. It was here that I got to hike the yellow ochre trails and collect my pigments and dirt. A day trip to Nimes and the local market in Apt supplied me with pastels and clay, which I use in the making of my earth paintings in Lacoste.

Materials and their origin are a pivotal part of my paintings. Traveling is both a passion of mine and a fundamental part of my process. Each site carries a different beauty and unique essence along with its culture. This uniqueness comes with its own unique challenges, which shape my experience and sometimes affects my studio practice. The living mediums I use from each location hold their essence within my work and my spontaneous, gestural application of the mediums demonstrate my experiences and my movements in these places; earth and spirit.

The materials I use cause the paintings to naturally change over time and rot away, as they are not sealed. These paintings carry out their own lifecycle, this is intentional and meaningful to the spirit of the work. In my current body of work, I further experiment with this idea by allowing my painting process to occur outdoors when it rains. Relinquishing some of my control allows the painting to happen more on its own. This exciting inquiry continues to embrace the messy play I grew up loving.

Provence earth paintings, triptych II, Bethani Wells, 2016.
Provence earth paintings, triptych I, Bethani Wells, 2016.

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