Although my preferred medium has primarily been oil painting on glass, I have recently been working in wood, using downed tree limbs from my farm in Hopewell. I was first inspired by a log “bird house” that I made for New Hope Arts and by an exhibit that I took part in at the Monmouth Museum. Like the sculpture shown here, my most recent pieces are made from forked tree branches or “crotches,” and I’ve intentionally given them humorous titles such as “Getting Closer to Yew” and “Reflections on a Beech.” Some of the wood is pine and comes from a forest that I helped plant at the age of seven. As we harvest these trees, I can’t help but see the potential of the wood. I’m eager to see what the public thinks of this show in Lambertville.
I graduated from Princeton University with a degree in religion in 1971 and while there I was a University Scholar with a concentration in painting. That allowed me to work with the Spanish abstract expressionist Esteban Vicente and well as the Japanese-American potter Toshiko Takaezu. This also allowed me to spend a semester at the New York Studio School working from a model, so my sources of inspiration are pretty eclectic. I also have a master’s in Industrial Arts from the College of New Jersey.
Working with glass and oil, I explore geometry in an abstract way, an interest I have had since high school. I often layer a circular grid over a rectangular grid so that the finished work is imbued with an expression of each. The viewer’s eye moves from grid to grid creating a tension and vibration between them. Many of these pieces also contain a central focus that I use to focus my own thoughts and attention and also to draw the viewer into the piece. When a viewer pauses and enters the work I feel a success. It’s a practice used in meditation, as in the yantras and mantras of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
Using glass allows me to work in layers and in three dimensions, adding to the geometric reality of the piece. The space between the shapes becomes a distinctive part of the whole and the interplay between the layers as well as the use of mirrors in some pieces creates dynamic visual interest. My work has been influenced by my teachers and by the artists whose work I see on a constant basis.
I find a great deal of kinship with quilts, especially the old order Amish quilts. These quilts were the first true American art form and are only now being recognized for their visual power and innovation. In fact, my most recent solo exhibit was titled “Glass Quilts,” at the Hopewell Freight Shed. I find that I am often drawn to a limited palette and that the attempt to stay in a range of intensity of hue strengthens the color effect. I also love to explore and try to capture the full strength of the rainbow. In holding an intensity we can communicate the power of color.
Editor’s note: Charlie Katzenbach’s current work, along with that of mosaic artist Norine Kevolic, is in the exhibition “Expressions in Wood, Glass, and Bamboo” at the Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, from Friday, September 7, through Sunday, September 30. The artists will host an opening reception on Saturday, September 8, from 4 to 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.lambertvillearts.com/events/2012/09, call 609-397-4588, or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katzenbach’s work can also be seen at www.jerseyarts.com where she is the September featured artist of the New Jersey Council on the Arts.
Readers of U.S. 1 may recall the July 18 cover story by Linda Arntzenius, titled “Something Sweet in Hopewell,” featuring Charlie (Chuck) Katzenbach’s Sweet Sourland Farm. At the time of the interview for that story, Charlie was in the process of gender transition. For the last several months Charlie has been living fulltime as a woman.
“The change in gender,” Katzenbach told Arntzenius in a subsequent interview, “has spurred an outpouring of artistic creativity.” Has her transition changed her art? “Not at all,” she said, “I feel art transcends gender and runs too deep to be affected, I’m still me and will work as the same person.