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Review: Emerging artist Margaret Fletcher finds her way to an impressive debut

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Margaret Fletcher makes an impressive debut at Spruill Gallery. Her elegant drawings and paintings achieve a meditative calm, in part by balancing opposites. Both lush and spare, they read as surface and space, and their effect is allusive and elusive.

Fletcher’s core language, as it were, is press-on letters in a crisp Helvetica script, each smaller than a coffee ground, which she positions in patterns that suggest swarms, constellations, maps or microscopic particles. As I wrote in the AJC, “The letters are fixed, like insects in amber, by layers of milky, translucent encaustic (wax), sometimes infused with an aqueous blue-green. Her application is so extremely thin and smooth that it makes other encaustic paintings look vulgar.”

Fletcher is an architect. She came to town eight years ago to work for Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, where she is a project director. Shortly thereafter, an artist friend suggested that she make an artwork to put into Art Papers magazine’s annual auction. Fletcher, whose drawing experience had centered on architectural renderings, made an abstract piece using what was at hand: press-on letters, an architect’s pre-computer staple. It sold.

For the next six years, she contributed one piece a year to the auction. She would station herself nearby watching viewers try to find meaning or code in the letters, pleased to observe that her drawings were not, as she says, “figureoutable.”

Fletcher grew increasingly more focused on art-making as the years progressed, learning what she wanted to do by doing it. She was, for example, having difficulty creating depth, because the fragile letters would clump together if they overlapped. She learned about encaustic while helping an artist friend spread wax on sculptures, and saw it as a solution.

Fletcher uses the encaustic to fix and coat the letters so that she can add layers on top. She makes these pieces on a thick wooden support, which creates a different feeling from the works on paper, not only because they are more objectlike but also because there’s no glass between the viewer and the filmy surface.

Eventually, Fletcher felt serious enough about making art to apply for a studio at The Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art. She’s been working there for a year and a half. The works-in-progress displayed during the Contemporary’s recent Open Studio night represent her experimentation with brighter, contrasting colors, such as a rusty orange and blue, and with solid shapes.

Fletcher’s exacting, rigorous process bespeaks her architectural training. She is, she says, an architect through and through. But making art gives her something that her profession doesn’t. “Architecture is a collaborative process,” she explains. “This is something that’s my own. It’s very private, and it’s very satisfying in a way that architecture is not. ”

A woman who has designed and built guitars as well as programmed computers clearly has an aptitude for many creative endeavors. If her ability to balance competing elements in her drawings and painting is any indication, Fletcher will surely find a way to reconcile her pursuit of art and her practice of architecture so that each enhances the other.

“Ocus,” Fletcher’s solo show, is on view at Spruill through October 30.

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