As a child, painting talent Tremain Smith, a Baltimore native and Bryn Mawr alum who now lives in Philadelphia, took Saturday art classes at the BMA. Today, her work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as corporate and private collections around the country. We’re pleased to present Tremain as our latest Baltimore Fishbowl resident artist, a dreamy, visionary maker and meditator, who layers abstract shapes dictated by an intuitive geometry, generating planes of glossy and gauzy color and form that make a hidden world momentarily accessible, a place of spirit and of Tremain’s own brand of beauty. Each grid is a ready-made departure point. Her more recent work, pictured right, puts me in strange mind of a psychedelic quilt, sewn by Kandinsky, doubling as a silk magic carpet, or maybe a kaleidoscopic construction site. Whichever metaphor I choose, the images feel happily fresh and challenging.
A seasoned craftsman and instructor in the ancient skill of encaustic painting, also known as hot-wax painting, which involves adding colored pigments to heated beeswax, Tremain applies “a mixed-media technique composed of layers of oil glazes, collaged elements and transparent beeswax fused by an open flame or an iron.”
In her larger creative life, Tremain passionately pursues another specialized practice, as quaint and rare as encaustic painting, the close-reading of sacred texts, a ritual she performs daily before entering her studio, for an hour or more. She describes this scholarly and meditative focus as the embrace of certain “systems,” which build upon one another to form a collage-like whole, a result much like her painting style, and definitely informative to her art’s creation.
“These spiritual disciplines deeply impact my life and my art. They include forms of divination — ways of discerning invisible influences,” Tremain explains. “I see painting as a pathway to discovering larger understandings using the elements of line and shape, color and texture. It is a tangible means of getting to the intangible.”
For now, Tremain works with abstract geometric forms as a way to ponder and depict abstract spiritual meaning, symbolic of life force, she says, and endless, intricate possibility.
“This direction began when I saw a geometric diagram made up of circles and connecting lines in an old alchemical text — I was immediately drawn to its visual impact and began to study the tradition behind it,” Tremain says. “This tradition depicts the tree of life as a system of spheres and connecting pathways, and assigns numbers, letters, colors, sounds, and other symbols to these paths. The shapes themselves provide unlimited possibilities in art-making and open whole new possibilities of visual and spiritual discoveries as I apply my technique of painting to them.”
Early in her career, Tremain was greatly influenced by the abstract-expressionist painter Joan Snyder, whose works she describes as emotional, raw and free.
“I admire artists like Snyder, who take risks and point out the beauty in ‘ugly’ things,” Tremain says. “I allow order to emerge from seeming chaos, point out the patterns found in deteriorating things, and am attracted to the sometimes frightening aspects of birth and death. These things are reflections of the inner mysteries that I’m after when I paint.”
More recent influences include Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, Swiss artist Emma Kunz, and Agnes Martin, whose words, Tremain says, embody her mission: “If you live by inspiration then you do what comes to you.”
The artist has had solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Scottsdale, Maine, Delaware, Florida and Hawaii. Group exhibitions include SOFA Chicago, Art Miami, the Painted Bride, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the USArtists American Fine Art Show. Tremain was awarded a residency in 2004 at the McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2006, she served as an instructor in encaustic painting at the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC.
Tremain has been reviewed widely, including critiques in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Chicago Tribune and LA Weekly. Her work is included in The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax published by Watson-Guptill, and in the art journal New American Paintings. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Tyler School of Art, Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania. Tremain balances her studio work with lectures; she leads community workshops and teaches art through various venues.