Painting in layers

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Key points ° Opening reception for "Recent Works by Paul F. Morris and Jennifer Scott McLaughlin" ° 5 to 7 p.m. today ° Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St. ° The exhibit will be on display through Feb. 20. The Depot Art Center is open from 9 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 879-9008.

You can stay on the surface of a Jennifer Scott McLaughlin painting, or you can let your eyes wander.

Her paintings are like the spray-painted walls of a downtown alley, where one graffiti artist paints over another. They are like the walls of a subway station where one band poster has been covered by another and another. As time passes, the posters rip, names fade, and faces are torn and mismatched.

Her paintings are like an archeological dig where the bones of one generation have fallen through the layers of sediment to mix with the pottery shards of their ancestors.

Her paintings are both now and then, and that's the way she likes them.

McLaughlin is inspired by the look of the unwashed chalkboard. In fact, she started painting her current body of work on chalkboards before moving to wood panels.

"I like the process of erasing and layering," she said.

McLaughlin, a 30-year-old painter from Fort Collins and a graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, tries to paint in the same way that most people move a pen absentmindedly while talking on the phone.

The hand moves, and a line takes shape. She hates the word "doodle," but on some level, that's what she does.

"It's meant to be very loose," she said. "You should see the energy in the line. I compare it to graffiti -- fresh, fast."

Although all her work is archival, McLaughlin wants the viewer to feel a sense of impermanence with her work as if they could brush up against it and it could be erased.

She starts with a graphite pencil and starts drawing, free form, on a Baltic birch panel.

"It's like handwriting, the way it flows," she said. "But I don't labor over what it is or what it means."

When the drawing is done, she preserves it under a layer of shellac and begins painting over it. The shellac acts as a window to the drawing.

Most of the forms she paints are circular, but she said, "It's not so much about what the circle means. It's just a form that allows me to lay down color and composition."

Having freed herself from concerns about subject matter and meaning, McLaughlin is able to work fast and has an extensive, always changing, body of work.

Although most of the paintings she will be showing in Steamboat Springs are smaller scale pieces (most measuring about 2 feet square), many of McLaughlin's pieces are closer to 5 feet square. More of her work soon can be viewed on her Web site at www.jennyscott.com.

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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