Adele Marihatt: Found in Translation


Adele Marihatt: Presented by ArtSource and the AAWR Legacy Society at the Penton Media building, 1300 E 9th St, Cleveland, through July 1, 2016

If there is a central theme flowing gently through Swiss-born Adele Marihatt’s subtle paintings, it is the concept of translation. Any art is a matter of representing one type of reality in terms of another, as flesh becomes wood or metal or stone, or a range of feelings is conjured from a combination of musical sounds, or words on a page re-create events. But in Marihatt’s case the translations are of a somewhat different order.

Named Adele-Marie Hatt at her birth in Winterthur, and married in 1969 to the pathologist Vincent Monnier (now a Professor at Case-Western Reserve University), the painter was known professionally as Marihatt, exhibiting under that name in many shows, first in Geneva, then later in New York, and from 1982 in Cleveland (and elsewhere in the US), until her death in 2010.  Although she showed early promise as an artist, submitting a prize-winning design for a stained glass window to be installed in the National Library at Bern when she was just 16 years old, she initially pursued a career in science. She earned an MS in Physiology in the late 1960’s and went on to study medicine for several years at the Universities of Bern and Basel. Then in 1972, around the time Stephanie, the second of their three children, was born she went back to painting and continued steadfastly with that art for the rest of her life.

Some of her most widely exhibited works, on view in the current show, were inspired more than twenty years later by a trip to Japan, at a quiet pond in the garden of a teahouse in Osaka on a rainy day in 1994. Unlike most abstractions they refer to a specific reality, to water, and are executed in the manner of some color field paintings, using acrylic pigment as a stain on unprimed, stretched canvas. Reflections #10  measures about five by four feet and presents a poetic juxtaposition of lavender and pink, with a cloud-like mass of purplish tones at the top united across a rose-colored central area to a passage of purple horizontal shapes; these could be waves, or low-lying clouds, or an archipelago viewed from a high place. Then there are the math equations, scrawled in the painting’s rose expanse. This is “Bernoulli’s Theorem” according to the painting’s subtitle, and when we learn that the Swiss mathematician and foundational physicist Daniel Bernoulli was the first to understand certain aspects of fluid mechanics, we begin to see Marihatt’s painting as a feat of translation.

In related works she inscribes lines from poems by e.e.cummings and Cleveland poet Christopher Franke in a barely legible dot-matrix format – like bubbles – across watery reflected images. The formula or principle in Reflections #10 is a different sort of  poem – a formal expression of the way a fluid squirts over an area of low pressure, making things like carburators and airplane wings feasible, as well as atomizers and a thousand other devices. In Marihatt’s painting, on the right, a waterspout shape that joins the two lavender patches expresses this idea in purely painterly terms. Her gestural image here serves as a bridge between modes of understanding, and more movingly, between the phases of Marihatt’s own passions and gifts. She translates the energies of youth and maturity back and forth across the changing pressures of a life.