Ari Athans began her professional life as a working geologist and these concerns permeate her paintings. Though perhaps better known as a jeweller and sculptor, it is with paint that she finds an imaginary space to explore ideas about the future – based on her reading of contemporary scientific developments. Imagery in these works, painted in enamel on steel and faceted with line and colour, are matched with titles that read like scientific names, proposing fantastic yet possible futures.
She tells Art Guide, “The mining of planets and asteroids is in our future. So I’m painting what that might look like: what sulphur could be in a different atmosphere, how a crystal might manifest.” In these works, chaos evolves into order and back again, in a way similar to the construction of the paintings. “I like to explore texture and let the process take over. It is a sense of push and pull that speaks to the lack of resolution in the medium.”
Whereas in her jewellery practice her work is ultimately functional, in these paintings, gems are imaginative vessels, journeys into space. Ceres Coral with Sulphur Stem reads like a flower – foreign, spiky and dangerous, with an acidic yellow stem.
Among the most compelling works of this series is Charon Sulphur Cargo Ship. Charon, one of Pluto’s five known moons, discovered in 1978, is named for its mythological reference to the Greek “ferryman of the dead”. In this work a boat foregrounds a caustic lemon pond that evokes the intensity and colour of the toxic pools in New Zealand’s Rotorua, where active gases boil from the volcanic earth.