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Evolution: Carlotta Hester ’86

“I’m one of those people who love doing a little bit of everything,” says Maret art teacher and alumna Carlotta Hester ’86. Anyone familiar with her exquisitely constructed, mixed-media lightboxes and paintings will find her most recent work, “Rapture,” shown at Georgetown’s Addison/Ripley Gallery this past winter, a significant development.

Her earlier pieces—with motifs from art history, literature, dreams, nature, and her own life—can be mined like an archeological site. Each one was deeply thought out with layer upon layer of materials. Some took more than 300 hours over several years to complete. “Everything was super textured, and the colors were muted in comparison to this exhibition,” says Hester.

Her recent work—large bold canvases with expressive swaths of bright color—are energetic and arresting. They are a progression of an earlier series, “Fresh,” which she started in 2007. At the time, she had an exhibition at a Govinda Gallery’s large space at National Harbor. On the weekends, she would go to the gallery and work. With so much space, she was inspired to paint large canvases on the floor. People would come into the gallery and remark on the beauty of the work. Their appreciation encouraged Hester to continue the series.

Her materials are primarily acrylic paint and water. She doesn’t often use a brush—her tools are cups and squeeze bottles. She throws, pours, sprays, and sees what happens in keeping with an experimental, process-oriented approach that she has cultivated since childhood. “I've learned that the paint will go where the water is and different processes emerge. Colors also react differently. Some colors are heavier, or blend faster, or will dominate another color.” She doesn’t use white paint to cover anything up, so working in this way is “riskier,” and some canvases she has had to put aside. “Every step dictates the next. I have a certain amount of control when painting, but the process can create unexpected results, which is exciting.”

Hester regularly paints in her studio near Dupont Circle, where she might pop in before or after her day at Maret, working on her art, photographing the work, and then going home to review the photos which helped decide what to do next. The Rapture series is attuned to different influences now: “It’s movement, it's color, it's balance. It's not about theories and concepts. . . it's a good space.”

She has always kept a sketchbook where she processes “everything.” Typically, her sketchbook is filled with drawings, quotes, and found objects in collage format. It is in her sketchbook that she has processed the traumatic news of the past two years. “You need to think about what’s going on in the world,” Hester says. But these thoughts and ruminations are staying in her sketchbook for now. When she gets to her studio, she’s on a different track.

“So many years ago when I was teaching kindergarten, there was a little boy and he was just sitting there holding his paintbrush. I said, ‘Do you want to get started with your painting?’ He said, ‘Look at this!’ And he put this brush to water and watched the paint swirling in the water. So, when I was doing one of my recent paintings, I'm pouring something here, I'm pouring something there, and I'm just sitting here, watching. Is it going to meet? And then when it meets, and it starts swirling together. All of a sudden, I flashback to the child, and thought, ‘Oh, this is it. This is just where I want to be.’”

Photo credit: Max Hirshfeld