The Big Picture (Sestina)

Pigments ground in acrylic medium on canvas, 2021

9' × 37.5' (six panels, each 9' × 6.25')

Jo Hormuth is often told that her art is poetic and, just as frequently, that she thinks like an engineer. Like poets and engineers, she relies on measured decisions about disparate elements and their interactions to ensure the cohesive integrity of a complex whole.

The Big Picture (Sestina) draws its structure from the sestina, a dense, discursive poetic form defined by a patterned recurrence of end-words. Meanings multiply as those elements, in shifting juxtapositions and contexts, cycle through six six-line stanzas and a three-line envoi.

In the painting’s six panels, the three subtractive primary colors (cyan, magenta, yellow) and the three additive primaries (red, green, blue) figure as featured voices—subtly layered, varying in value and saturation. A seventh color, metallic gray, plays quietly and reflectively through the ordered end-columns. Across the bottom runs a variant envoi.

Teasing out the structure yields not a solution, as to a puzzle, but a lens for looking deeper. A syntax for registering nuance, analyzing perception, and articulating the dynamic equilibrium established by the interplay of hue and size and sequence within and between canvases.

Jo starts from the situation for which a work is intended. The Big Picture (Sestina) responds to the architecture and function of an interprofessional health center, where voices with different disciplinary emphases and assumptions interact, describing a body’s complexity from diverse perspectives in pursuit of productive understanding. When a voice is missing or unheard, connections may be overlooked. The big picture may not come into focus.

As in music or a poem, time plays a part: you don’t perceive everything at once. Understanding builds on holding in memory fleeting echoes, small incidents and exchanges, and finding ordered patterns—systems and vocabularies that allow and encourage deeper insight.