If you happened to be in central Italy during September and October of 2011, you might have seen Seattle based painter and printmaker Betty Merken in any number of Italian hill towns. As the 2011 recipient of the esteemed Astra Zarida Fellowship, Merken spent over two months recording with great precision and exactitude the colors of the architecture and the landscapes of over a dozen central Italian hill towns. To do this, the artist painted hundreds of large, on-site color swatches, revealing the rich color palettes of each hill town. She also recorded deteriorating wall surfaces, with their layers of pigmented color and texture, drips and stains, peeling frescoes, and faded, peeling, and chipped paint, revealing pentimento surfaces of human presence and history, and then archived the color swatches by date and hill town. The beautiful, painted colors and the many hundreds of photographs taken by the artist have inspired the abstract paintings and monotypes in her exhibition In Italia.
Betty Merken lives and works in Seattle, Washington. She is a painter and printmaker whose abstract geometric monotypes and paintings recall the early Modernist works of Piet Mondrian and the work of American artists such as Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, and Mark Rothko, often echoing freedoms of painterly gesture pioneered by the Abstract Expressionists. Her work can be found in several galleries and in numerous private and public collections in the United States, Asia, and Europe, and in the permanent collections of several major museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon. Merken has been honored with fellowships from the BAU Institute and the Northwest Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy. She is the co-author, with Stefan Merken, of Wall Art, Megamurals and Supergraphics (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1987).