Mona Bernstein Dukess ’57: The Color of Water

As abstract as the art of Mona Bernstein Dukess ’57 can be, when looking at it you have the sensation of seeing something familiar. A painting’s bold shock of blue, the varying intensity of shade, a horizontal brushstroke’s suggestion of movement—the viewer is tempted to dip a toe into the sea of color. This artist has managed to transform her watery inspiration into a both palpable beauty and timeless mystery.

Mona’s most provocative images are created with her own handmade paper, a time-consuming and waterlogged procedure that she describes as “a messy, wonderful process.” Beginning in early 1980s, at a time when artists rarely attempted handmade paper, Mona mixed pigment directly into the wet paper mixture, so that color was never brushed onto a dried sheet of paper. The handmade paper acts as both canvas and paint, resulting in a wholly integrated and truly one-of-a-kind piece.

After children and a graduate degree in education in the 1970s, Mona returned to her childhood love of art. Renting a studio near her home in Larchmont, New York, she began her journey into abstraction with her depiction of hard-edged shapes. Mona later found herself exploring a more biomorphic, or “feminine,” vocabulary of circles and ovals.

The surroundings of her seasonal home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, inspired her move from a representational to an abstract sensibility. Marshes, ocean, seaweed, shells, patterns in beach sand—all these images have been the springboard for paintings and prints, with water as the most compelling force. Digital photography has been Mona’s recent mode of expression; she maintains the sense of abstraction by cropping images.

Mona consistently exhibits her work in the Northeast, and draws support from the artists’ colonies of Cape Cod—a community that, Mona says, “gives me the nourishment to keep going, and I love it. It’s me…totally.”—K.H.

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