Tag Archives: Fiber Art

6B by Deborah Baker

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Cryptic, 35″ x 40″, 6b pencil on  paper

Chicago artist Deborah Baker, whose large pencil drawings are on view now at Firecat Projects until December 16, 2017, once again demonstrates that the artist’s most creative tool rests between her ears.  Baker rejects all currently fashionable media such as video, performance and photography. Even within the constraints of conventional drawing, she avoids decorative or descriptive color and perspectival reality. Through this systematic refusal, she achieves complete freedom within a form of expression that is strongly graphic and psychologically resonant.

Baker can be understood to be a sort of free-associational sign painter, a dealer in archetypes collected and added to the page, where they  set up visual harmonics within the composition. The large drawings in 6B are based upon her previous small, black and white embroidered pieces, several of which are in the show. She chose to make her drawings on large sheets of brown kraft paper in order to create larger scale works for 6B.

Baker describes her process:
I always start with a word or title.  That word evokes images for me …I also always begin with the border or frame first…I do few or no preparatory drawings… sometimes a small thumbnail sketch to get the layout, no marking…though I do fold the fabric to orient the space.

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Tied, 17″ x 17″, embroidered linen

Her previous work with embroidery affects Baker’s compositional choices in the more recent large drawings.  There is a kind of steady rhythm to the fabric pieces. Each constituent image is spaced out over the surface of the artwork, creating the impression that the composition must be “read” rather than seen. The patterned border surrounding each embroidery resembles decorative craftwork from the Victorian age, though the images within are more reminiscent of ethnic or folk images, or designs from tattoo art.

In the large drawings, the decorative designs that Baker uses to define the outer limits of her small embroidered compositions begin to resemble theatre prosceniums, and the compositions become performances. This is especially evident in the drawings Connect and 12 Dancing Princesses (which even includes a suggestion of an audience in the lower portion of the drawing.) She takes a metaphorical step back in Center, which once again recalls Victorian embroidery.

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12 Dancing Princesses, 35″ x 40″ 6B pencil on paper

A recurring theme in Baker’s work is the mystery of the long-term loving relationship.  It can be no accident that the couples seen in the embroidered Link and Tied, and in the drawing Union are skeletal. “Until death do us part” is not just a metaphor here. In Cryptic, the image of the silhouetted couple facing each other refers both to a famous optical illusion and to the opaque black box of long term commitment as visualized in an all-seeing pyramid. In Hope vs. Hope, love and conflict co-exist.

It’s been said that editing is the only art, and Deborah Baker’s deceptively simple drawings prove it. These large pictures of dancers, hearts and grinning skeletons appear at first blush to be simple, naïve and almost childlike, but upon closer examination are nothing of the kind. The artist has created a complex visual language that allows her complete freedom of expression within the limited means she employs.

For information about Firecat Projects and 6B go here

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Union, 35″ x 35″, 6B pencil on paper

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Wonderland

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Installation by Kirsten Lund

Wonderland, a frisky selection of imaginative objects and inventive pictures by six of the region’s more talented art players, is on view now through December 2, 2017,  at the Walter E. Terhune Gallery in Perrysburg, Ohio.  The show’s curator is Brian Carpenter of Contemporary Art Toledo.  Wonderland is a kind of artist-created play space for adults who appreciate paradox, irony, humor and originality. Each artist  is a skilled practitioner  of his/her self-invented game and we are invited to play along.

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Avatar/Game Piece by Sarah Rose Sharp

The terms of engagement are established as we enter the gallery. A set of six small game pieces rests on a pedestal, each invented by one of Wonderland’s artists, for a game as yet to be invented. These diminutive avatars range from an intricately carved figure on horseback to a desultory lump of styrofoam.  Though there are, as yet, no rules, no board, no start and no finish, some serious play is clearly  about to commence.

Heather Accurso describes herself as “dedicated to the visual language of drawing,” and her draftsmanship is indeed a strong suit, but she has added assemblage to the mix. Handmade miniatures in  shadowbox settings now enrich and enlarge her drawn and recurring themes.

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Paramedic by Heather Accurso

In Paramedic, we find a dense composition that combines a narrative of catastrophe with angelic presence. Her masterfully drawn cherub provides the central image in a tiny diorama of disaster. Closer inspection reveals more depth and breadth, as the signs of injury and of medical intervention create a disturbing but intriguing hallucinatory tale of death and ascension.

Adrian Hatfield is an accomplished collagist, cutting and pasting his way to idiosyncratic personal meanings that are more than the sum of their parts. In the diptych Adaptive Radiation and The Morning After  he  samples and recombines images from art historical sources into baroque scenarios  that may suggest the lush before and melancholy after of a one-night stand, or an idyllic Edenic state followed by  imagery of environmental spoilage and degradation.

Andrew Kreiger’s small, meticulously constructed and toy-like artworks–or art-like toy works?– draw upon his skills as a maker, as well as his considerable talents as a painter. His opening box construction Van Dyke, Detroit, Facing North/South/East treats us to a miniature panorama of  Detroit’s lost pastoral history.

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Van Dyke, Detroit, Facing North/South/East by Andrew Kreiger

In Momento Mori #1, Sarah Rose Sharp takes us on a virtual walk through the woods, where we discover a blanket upon which a skeleton rests, partly obscured by leaves and  by intimations of surrounding trees.  The effect is both macabre and lyrical.

Michael McGillis’s contribution to Wonderland is a single, improbably cut-up and re-assembled combination easy chair and  chintz-patterned bulldozer. Phantom Limb is a comic yet poignant  stand-in for an amputee, gamely holding itself upright in spite of the insult to its structural integrity.

The most mysterious and intriguing contribution to Wonderland is an installation, by Kirsten Lund, of fabric constructs which defy categorization. Lund’s process uses salvaged fabrics and each piece is limited to one individual pattern shape that is then combined and recombined into a range of symmetrical configurations.  They pleat, loop, drape, sag and lope across the wall, fantasy costume pieces for an obscure period drama.  They clearly reference the human body, but what body–or body part–they relate to remains a mystery.

The artists in Wonderland present us with work that is both serious and playful.  It can be thoughtful or silly, but never descends into whimsy.  The self-invented games they play are limited only by the structured creative process of each artist. For more information about the Walter E. Terhune Gallery go here.

From Bits and Pieces

When two artists show their work together, the urge to compare and contrast is almost irresistible.  “On the one hand this, and on the other hand that” becomes the template for evaluation and appreciation.  Artists Aviva Alter and Marzena Ziejka  invite this even more, because they do, in fact,  have quite a lot in common. Their 2-person show, From Bits and Pieces, is on exhibit at Firecat Projects, 2124 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, until November 11, 2017.

Alter and Ziejka share their eastern european  heritage. Alter  is a second-generation American with German and Polish roots and Ziejka is a more recent arrival from Poland. The pair met several years ago at an art exhibition, got to know each other and became close friends.

As they began planning  From Bits and Pieces, both had recently lost a parent, a shared experience that each processed in her own unique way. Alter says, “For me, the death led me into artwork about the body, death, life, healing and decay.” Ziejka struggled to understand how her creation of an object could somehow stand for the longed-for and absent parent. Her father was constantly mending and tending, and Ziejka recognizes this impulse in her own art practice.  “Isn’t it a process of our lives? We are collecting, arranging and re-arranging things until we are lost in them or in the process or both.”

Both artists have strong backgrounds in traditional crafts, but neither is content to work within accepted traditions, and each seems compelled to push the boundaries of her craft and art. They are hunter-gatherers, (Alter in an urban setting and Ziejka in the country), collectors of inspiration from the detritus of civilization and nature.

Aviva Alter

Alter began her life as an artist in ceramics, working as a studio potter (and later director) at Lillstreet Street Art Center.  She grew and adapted along the way,  adding fiber and printmaking to her skill set, mixing and matching her various abilities to produce hybrid artworks that resist easy categorization.

She learned to crochet as part of the gloriously luxuriant Crochet Coral Reef Project and subsequently led the development of the Cambrian Reef  shown at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and the Smithsonian.

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Alter’s recent work, exhibited here, takes an ad hoc approach to art-making.  The technical requirements of a particular craft vocabulary have been jettisoned for an experimental, provisional process that yields smallish constructs that might be improvised cricket cages or handcrafted internal prosthetics. She describes her process: “[it] began with my obsession for gathering discarded bits of information, assembling and reassembling them to create an order of my own invention… focusing on processes that disguise the original function of the found objects, these forms become amalgamations of broken bits and pieces of my world.” The results are ephemeral-seeming objects that feature fragile, sheer and translucent materials held together by irregular stitching, tying and wrapping. Sticks, wire and found fragments form the armature, and are covered by gauze, string and metal mesh, overlaid by waxy color.

Marzena Ziejka

Marzena Ziejka has worked as a professional weaver of tapestry,  miniature painter, graphic designer and illustrator.  Born and raised in Tarnow Poland, she grew up on a farm and was attracted to the earthy qualities of farm materials: soil, unprimed canvass, horse hair and sticks. The natural materials she employs speak of her past, her absent father and exile from a lost place and time. She writes, ” I am from the land where soil, earth is not called ‘dirt’/Where it is called Mother-Earth, Mother-Breadwinner.”

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Untitled/Working title Cocoon/Tree Bones #4, #5, #1, #2 by Marzena Ziejka

Through accretion and repetition, Ziejka arrives at a series of cocoon-like images. Her creative process is based on unorthodox weaving techniques using natural materials. She calls the sticks that she uses “tree bones” and the materials she employs inevitably create shapes arising from her means of production. It is a kind of nature-based constructivism. The resulting ovoid shapes look like empty mummy cases or  the discarded shells of transformed bodies. They project simultaneously a sense both  of ominous presence and poignant loss, as if the still-living are in dialog with the recently deceased. These artworks, while not closely resembling the more figurative work of her fellow countrywoman Magdalena Abakanowicz, convey the same pensive mood of alienation.

One of the great mysteries in art is how two artists who start with similar premises, materials and methods can end up with work that is uniquely and completely their own. It explains on some level how the individual creative impulse is the one great variable that any artist brings to her work, and that each of these artists has in abundance.

A Watcher’s Skin

 

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Watcher, hand embroidery on cotton bed sheet, 34″ x 40″ 2016-2017

Fiber artist Dayna Riemland is haunted by the ghosts of a past that is not her own. Born  into an exiled ethnic community in Canada, she internalized from an early age the sense of dislocation and loss experienced by her grandparents.

They were Russian Mennonites,  a persecuted ethnic German religious sect related to the Dutch-German Anabaptists. The group left West Prussia around 1789 and  settled in what is now Ukraine. They thrived in their adopted country, but history overtook them, and after experiencing escalating persecution as the Communist party gained ascendance, they were finally ejected during Stalin’s regime. Fleeing families scattered to regions throughout the world:  Germany, Mexico, Bolivia, Belize, and Canada, to name a few, but would never re-unite as a community.

In A Watcher’s Skin, now on view at River House Arts Gallery through November 11, 2017, Riemland, a young artist who has no direct memory of the dislocation and trauma of exile, vicariously re-experiences it as a dream-like story that is both seductive and disquieting. Her sense of her family’s loss of home represents a kind of solastalgia, a term that describes longing for a lost time or place one has never experienced directly and that may not even exist.

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My Seeing Skin, hand embroidery on gloves, 11″ x 14″ 2017

The seven artworks that Riemland has created for this exhibit are modest in size and make good use of the crafts of embroidery and needlepoint she learned from her grandmother in childhood. She explores how tradition and its associated formalities and motifs “can be combined with ghosts of a collective history that has become pre-occupied with the past.” She takes fabric remnants– vintage handkerchiefs, gloves, bed sheets and pillowcases (many taken from the household of her grandmother) and labors over their surface to create images that are resonant and uncanny. Riemland’s visual vocabulary, especially  her repeated use of the unblinking eye in My Seeing Skin and in Watcher, is reminiscent in mood to the nightmarish but captivating imagery from Pan’s Labyrinth, a film by Guillermo Del Toro.  Perhaps not coincidentally, that narrative also tells the story of a child navigating an imagined world at the periphery of adult reality. Riemland likewise seems both disoriented and enchanted by her exiled grandparents’ stories of a lost and distant time and place.

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An Inverse Tradition, hand embroidery on cotton pillow case, 14″ x 18″, 2017

Riemland describes the process of  embroidering as an “act that creates a devotional surface.” She begins her compositions with traditional floral and decorative motifs and moves to more fantastic imagery in the center. In Watcher, the largest piece in the show  and one which took her almost a year to complete, she begins with a frame of traditional roses and then moves inward to a many-eyed presence that seems to beckon us forward.

In An Inverse Tradition, Riemland inverts a female figure in ethnic costume, literally turning it on its head to make the familiar strange. The upside-down figure might be a visual metaphor for Riemland’s intimate yet distant experience of a vanished family history, one which can no longer be touched or experienced directly, but which haunts her and drives her creative process forward.

Dayna Riemland graduated from the  Maine College of Art with an MFA in Studio Art in 2017. She currently lives and works in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, Canada. This is her first solo show.

 

Kathyrose Pizzo: After A Thousand Mornings

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Installation: After A Thousand Mornings by Kathyrose Pizzo

The mother/child relationship over time, through sickness, care and–finally–death, forms the emotional core of Kathyrose Pizzo’s  moving solo exhibit After A Thousand Mornings, now on view through March 25th at Hatch Gallery in Hamtramck. Multiple sclerosis, her mother’s diagnosis, has given the artist a front row seat at this most mysterious and universal human rite of passage, and she has clearly thought long and deeply about the experience of her mother’s decline and her part in it.  She observes in herself the shifting emotional dynamics of care and conflict, love and resentment, grief and recovery, rendering them in physical space through the patient assemblage of sticks and strings.

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Departure (foreground)

The artworks are binary in nature, with wooden constructs that seem to either support or confine cloud-shaped gray pillows.  The softness of the cloth clouds, juxtaposed with the hardness of the provisionally composed structures, shifts in meaning  from piece to piece, the cloud in one artwork seeming to refer to the artist, in another, to her mother. Sometimes the cloud is  imprisoned by the scaffolding and at others it seems to float above and away.  Throughout, the two elements circle and collide, metaphors for a kind of emotional dialog between these intimately connected human beings.

Caught eloquently captures the dilemma of the cared-for and the caregiver, mutually trapped by circumstance. A wire net  that mimics the failing synapses of her mother’s brain confines both the cloud and the wooden support to the ground, metaphorically trapping both mother and daughter beneath the disease.

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Caught

Pizzo is also interested in examining the end of life through the lens of  social rituals in cultures past and present. She particularly acknowledges the influence of Joseph Campbell, a philosopher known for his work in comparative mythology and religion. She says of these rites, “Tributes to the departed are the events that make us human, that define the distance between us and the stars.”

This influence is most directly referenced in Departure. The artist has created a small scale replica of a funeral pyre, upon which a lovingly pillowed figure rests.  Underneath,  a chaotic and disordered pile of kindling  mirrors the artist’s mental state.

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Calypso

Many of the works in After a Thousand Mornings refer to the passage of time and convey a sense of waiting.  Wall pieces such as Calypso and Episode 1: The Ladder are improvised and complex structures created  by the artist using aluminum tape, which is then partially stripped away as the composition emerges. The title work of the show takes on the theme of time’s passage most directly, with 30 tiny wooden scaffolds topped by cotton clouds and arranged in a grid –a kind of  calendar–quietly  and elegantly filling one wall of the gallery.

The incremental passage of time that forms the rhythm of life and death is the ultimate theme of After A Thousand Mornings. The artworks are a physical manifestation of this process, small moments turning into large ones, one moment adding to another, making up a life and bringing us inevitably to its end. Kathyrose  Pizzo has found meaning here:  “Personally witnessing both how disease can bring forth  greater understanding of the human condition and the unavoidable destiny of all life is central to my work.”

For more information about Hatch Gallery and After a Thousand Mornings, go here.

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After A Thousand Mornings

Emergent Effect

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One Becomes Many by Paloma Nunez-Reguerio

What happens when one becomes many? How do patterns, objects, gestures repeated and systematically arranged, reveal  thoughts and ideas that are otherwise invisible?   The artists of  Ypsi Alloy Studios think they know the answer–or answers–to that question.

They have done their homework, comparing and contrasting different definitions of multiplicity and its implications, each coming up with a satisfying working theory of how this relates to them personally. The artists of the collective share a space, and clearly also share ideas and ways of working while also displaying an intriguing diversity of approach and media. In this thoughtful collection of artworks, the artists work both individually and in collaboration, bouncing ideas and methods off each other. The result of their labors, Emergent Effect, curated by Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson and Jessica Tenbusch, is now on view until January 28 at the Ann Arbor Art Center.

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108 by Paloma Nunez-Reguerio

Many of the artists have created meaning through cumulative action in the most direct possible way, fabricating artworks that amount to more than the sum of their parts. Two pieces by Paloma Nunez-Ruguerio exemplify this straightforward approach. One Becomes Many invites gallery visitors to include themselves in the many by writing personal details about themselves on the stickers that make up the  installation.  The resulting visual effect calls to mind the cells of a beehive. Another Nunez-Reguerio work, entitled 108, is colorful and more lushly decorative than most of the more austere works in the exhibit. Small prints in various colors are repeated and placed in a grid, making a veritable fruit salad of vegetal forms.

Some of the most idiosyncratic yet satisfying work in Emergent Effect is created by Yunhong (Katie) Chang.

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Joy by Yunhong (Katie) Chong

Her  series Zoo/Joy/Pinwheel/ Whisper/Goodbye features an installation of identical  unglazed porcelain plaques that provide grounds for  abstract hairline (literally) drawings.  Promise, with multiple tiny hanging hair rings encrusted by porcelain slip, suggest precious yet fragile personal relationships.

Elize Jekabson’s sculpture Stacked employs plywood, cut and layered in a way reminiscent of the 3-d printing process to create a kind of anthill-shaped tower. Like many of the pieces in the show, this work refers to both the repetition and addition of forms seen in nature and to industrial ways of making.  Works like Jessica Tenbusch’s antler and silver constructions Jaw and Kiss, Wade Buck’s forged steel wishbones (Best of Luck) and Riva Jewell-Vitale’s Fragments depend upon repetition of idiosyncratic natural forms for their considerable visual resonance.

Coming at the question of the one and many from an entirely different direction are the large format photographs of Alexa Borromeo. Too Pussy for Trump features a series of  women whose naked bodies provide the canvas for provocative statements on gender and race.  Here, once again, societal assumptions are projected onto women’s bodies regardless of their human individuality–a cognitive dissonance that is highlighted in this funny and disturbing collection of images.

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From Too Pussy for Trump by Alexa Borromeo

Emergent Effect is particularly intriguing for the influences that the individual artists clearly exercise on  each other.  This talented group displays an emerging sense of shared esthetic interests and some through-lines emerge. I notice in particular a growing emphasis on excellence in craftsmanship, an allegiance to the  authenticity of materials and  an apparent appetite for repetitious cumulative labor characteristic of natural forms  but  married to industrial components and processes. Ypsi Alloys Studios continues to develop as an art collective with gifted individual members and a growing sense of shared purpose in its collaborative projects. It will be interesting to see where they go next.

For more information on Ann Arbor At Center and the current exhibit Emergent Effect go here.

Girlfriend Material

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Installation components from A Sucker for Jewelry

In Girlfriend Material, multimedia artist, writer and thinker Sarah Rose Sharp examines  the reductive archetypes that provide a distorting lens through which women are often viewed in American popular culture. She has gathered a small universe of cartoon females and set them up to play with and against each other, teasing out from these one-dimensional characters some three-dimensional thoughts on women and their place in the world.

A millennial feminist, Sharp is  aware that a multiplicity of roles are available to women but she also knows that female complexity and nuance are routinely flattened out and simplified in the popular imagination, the more easily to be consumed and digested.  And with the election of a known sexual predator and his cast of sexist cronies to the incoming U.S. administration, it looks as if Sharp’s observations are well calibrated to remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

“This show is a continuation of themes and ideas I’ve worked on for a very long time, but it’s been very much influenced by the recent climate surrounding the presidential election…we must really hate women for someone like Donald Trump to even have a chance, ” says Sharp in a recent Detroit Metro Times interview.

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The Bitch is [IN]
The artworks and installations in Girlfriend Material seem to say that a woman can be a bitch or a doormat, a sexpot or a smart girl,  a princess or a goddess, as long as she doesn’t exhibit the complexity of a real woman. Modern society likes its female role models bite-size.

Sharp has elected to use only pop figures such as Wonder Woman, Betty Boop, Princess Leia, Lucy and Lisa Simpson in Girlfriend Material. She has limited her materials to mass marketed objects such as Pez dispensers, key chains, novelty fabrics and the like, altering and collaging them together to create imaginative games and transactional installations. While many of the artworks are playful, there is an unmistakable  undercurrent of frustration in this work, and an underlying question about how a woman’s life is defined by herself and by others.

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Miss Overachiever (detail)

Miss Overachiever, represented here by a manikin wearing a girl scout/Lisa Simpson beret and a comically over-loaded merit badge sash, is the good girl, the nerdy smart girl who gets all A’s, but is judged by the surrounding  culture in terms that value appearance and popularity over achievement. Or as Sharp says in her statement “Where is the line between smart and too-smart-for-your-own-good?”

The Betting Pool, a circular “game”  with no start and no end, continues the theme of cultural stasis. The glassy surface features bodiless characters in kiddie cars bumping and shuffling against each other, their movement controlled by an unseen motivator that flies  overhead. Who “wins” is determined not by the players but  by gallery visitors who bet on the character they “like” the best.

The sexy but infantilized  Betty Boop in  A Sucker for Jewelry illustrates yet another kind of game that women are sometimes called upon to play with mixed success. Her 1930’s persona has been lovingly updated with tattoos and bondage gear.  (Sharp found the keychain figures in an alley and has not altered them.) Why objects like this even exist is a mystery to the artist–and to us–but she suspects that Betty Boop’s  child-like head on her sexpot body still has plenty of cultural resonance. “I didn’t make this stuff up,” she says, laughing.

It didn’t escape my attention that many of the artworks in Girlfriend Material had a monetary component.  While Sharp may be complaining about the paucity of complex roles available to women, she seems also to imply that any choice a woman makes  is likely to be poorly compensated. Women still earn only 80 cents on the dollar in 2015 as compared to men, and women in the arts are not doing any better (and possibly worse). To cite a common art world benchmark, in 2015 only 8% of the contemporary art for sale at auction was by women. It should be no surprise, then, that Princess Leia is crowdfunding her rescue at 25 cents a pop and Lucy is willing to empathize for a nickel. It’s the going rate.

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Double Wedding Ring

 

In Double Wedding Ring, Sharp finally attempts to synthesize all of the oversimplified traits displayed by her characters into a more  complex picture. The kaleidoscopic collection of images in the quilt, meeting and circling each other, insists that a woman can be sweet and bitchy, strong, smart and sexy and quite a few other things if the surrounding society will only give her a shot. And in other corners of the culture, especially in film and television, there seems to be some movement toward more complex female characters.  Television shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls and movies like In  A World (directed by Lake Bell)  and the recently released Certain Women (directed by Kelly Reichardt) are carving out cultural space for actual women telling actual stories. Comedians like Amy Schumer and Samantha Bee bring humor to the public discussion of feminism.

So there’s hope, even if recent political events might indicate otherwise. It should be noted that all of the films and television shows I listed above are written and/or directed by women. Maybe by the time women reach wage parity with men (in 2152 at current rates!) we can look forward to equal rights  in gender roles too.

Girlfriend Material is on view at Public Pool, in Hamtramck until December 17, 2016.  For more information go here

New Fibers 2016

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Look Out by David Brackett, New Fiber 2016 First Place Prizewinner

In light of current events, art can seem powerless, superfluous, beside the point.

Gun violence, terrorism and war, racism, misogyny and income inequality are very much in the news and on the public mind. And the result of a political election that highlights the division within the country seems to render an artist’s quiet work irrelevant. Yet, in the absence of an alternative,  artists keep working.

Today’s dark mood is reflected in many of the 39 works selected by artist Jennifer Angus for New Fibers 2016, on view in the University Gallery at Eastern Michigan University until December 7. Angus, known for her Victorian wallpaper-inspired installations of wall-mounted insects, is drawn to work that explores the intersection between fiber arts, technology and nature while maintaining a somber atmosphere throughout. In her juror’s statement she states, “My search was for pieces that I felt had heart, raw emotion, an unapologetic political stance, or were life affirming  There is a great range of work in the exhibition with some very contemporary and original ideas.”

Eric Hazeltine’s monochromatic, minimal squares of charcoal, paper and string (Compositions I, II, III), Xia Gao’s luminous dark arch To Own Buddha-Xuan and Liz Robb’s Icelandic wool and horsehair weaving Icelandic Hestur are only a few of many minimal or post-minimal pieces that set the solemn tone.

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Icelandic Hestur by Liz Robb

However, in spite of the generally somber mood of the work in New Fiber 2016, fresh ideas and unusual uses of material abound.  Teresa Paschke’s Train Station with Kites features a digital photographic print on fabric with applied  embroidery and stenciled clouds, her dreamlike vision describing the border  between  the mundane and the visionary. Also lively and original is a video entitled  I AM MY OWN MASCOT (residue) by J. Casey Doyle. In it, a figure shrouded in yellow ribbons dances silently, performing  a  series of slow-motion gestures that seem to combine a cheerleading routine with yoga poses.

References to natural structures provide inspiration for many of the works in New Fibers 2016. Mount by Micaela Vivero recalls the work of industrious ants. Susan Aaron-Taylor’s cute-but-creepy felted creatures both repel and attract.  Lichen Party Frock by George-Ann Bowers  looks like a wasp’s nest re-imagined as fashion statement, and the very stuff of nature is incorporated into the site-specific grass works braided and woven into swirls and lines by Lucy Ruth Wright Rivers.

Anxiety is also a recurring theme of much of the work in this exhibit.  Michael Rohde’s Asora depicts a menacing hooded figure and  At the End by LM Wood suggests  ghostly limbs confined beneath a hazy screen as they reach for an untouchable thread. Heather Beardsley’s embroidered maps contain packed allegorical figures in a kind of comic horror vacui of unknown dangers and ominous cultural icons.

As might be expected in an exhibition that emphasizes the slow process of craft-based repetition and accrual to make a larger visual statement, New Fibers 2016 reminds us that art is a series of intentional processes that amount to a meaningful whole. And while this whole may seem weak and small right now in the face of current social and political disruptions, it is, nonetheless, important over time. The writer Katherine Ann Porter says it well:

The arts live continuously, and they live literally by faith; their names and their shapes and their uses and their basic meanings survive unchanged in all that matters through times of interruption, diminishment, neglect; they outlive governments and creeds and the societies, even the very civilization that produced them. They cannot be destroyed altogether because they represent the substance of faith and the only reality. They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away. 

The artists who create the works in this exhibition remind us that life and current events may be fleeting but art endures.      

 

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Train Station with Kites by Teresa Paschke

 

New Fiber 2016  is the seventh biennial exhibit of fiber arts sponsored by the Fiber Arts Network of Michigan, an organization founded on belief in the handmade, one-of-a-kind fiber object and dedicated to promoting its value in contemporary life and art. For more information about FAN, go here.

Artists included in this exhibit: Susan Aaron-Taylor, Heather Beardsley, George-Ann Bowers, David Brackett, Adrienne Callander, Chanjuan Chen, J. Casey Doyle, Holly Fischer, Xia Gao, Eric Hazeltine, Nancy Koenigsberg, Lily Lee, Skye Livingston, Cynthia Martinez, Teresa Paschke, Leslie Pontz, Liz Robb, Michael Rohde, Amanda Ross, Adrienne Sloane, Lauren Sobchak, Peeta Tinay, Betty Vera, Micaela Vivero , Jenny Walker, LM Wood, Lucy Ruth Wright Rivers.

For more information about University Gallery of Eastern Michigan University go here.

Cathy Jacobs

Cathy Jacobs doesn’t remember not being an artist.  As a child she sat at the vanity of her upstairs bedroom drawing obsessively for hours.

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Starry Sky by Cathy Jacobs

“I was always drawing from the time I was 3 or 4.  When I was 7 or so, I thought I can be an artist! I had a vision of a sort of Salvador Dali character in a beret and a pencil mustache.”

In fact, she remembers dressing up as the surrealist master for Halloween one year.  This seemed perfectly natural to her, since art was a man’s world at the time.

“I always thought I’d grow up to be a man” she says, laughing.

The image Starry Sky that was chosen for the PowerArt Project box now installed at Miller and Main in Ann Arbor, comes directly from her childhood memories. She vividly recalls  looking out of her bedroom window at the night sky and the  houses in her Ferndale neighborhood. “I didn’t like that they were so uniform, so I invented columns and balconies for them in my mind,” she says.

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Interface by Cathy Jacobs, 2012

Jacobs’ interest in painting and drawing  was a constant throughout her childhood and adolescence and was followed by college art studies. She studied painting at Wayne State University where she earned a B.F.A. and continued at Eastern Michigan University where she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Painting degree in 2015.

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Breakfast of Champions by Cathy Jacobs, 2010

Jacobs’s paintings from this period are figurative and show a strong interest in fantasy and storytelling. Fairytale archetypes and mysterious situations, puppets, dolls and queens populate her pictures. They have the quality of half-remembered dreams, fascinating and just out of reach.

Her work at this time was well composed and expertly painted, but Jacobs felt dissatisfied. She wanted the color, translucency and light in her paintings to escape from the picture plane and from narrative imagery. She experimented with various sheer or translucent materials–metal screen, gauzy silk and the like–collaged onto her paintings. The  kind of lightness and atmosphere that she wanted  seemed impossible to achieve with the media at hand.

But then, in 2014, Cathy Jacobs discovered weaving. Finally, this new medium allowed her to escape the painted canvas and the drawn image.

“It immediately took hold of my imagination. Through weaving, I found that I could express the full spectrum of colors and moods, but in real 3-dimensional space…I learned weaving and all of a sudden all the things I was thinking about in my paintings, the depth you would get through layers of color and translucency, I found I could get in 3 dimensions.”

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Portal by Cathy Jacobs, 3 views, handwoven linen, aluminum screen, mirror, metal hangers

Cathy Jacobs sees the way before her clearly now. “My current focus is in weaving panels of linen that, when layered together create vibrating fields of color.”  She has already had some success, exhibiting  her woven panels at Sofa Chicago 2015 on Navy Pier, and in the 2016 Architectural Digest Design Show in New York City.  This fall, her work will be featured in  World of Threads in Ontario, Canada.

Jacobs enjoys both  the process of weaving and  “the sense of finality and completion that comes when I finish a piece.“  She seems to have found the means and medium to bring to the real world the contents of her imagination. Every working artist knows that this clarity is a temporary thing in a long creative life.  Cathy Jacobs is a young artist and the future may see changes in her art practice,   but for now  she is happy in her woven world.

“It feels like a really good fit, ” she says, smiling.

 

Ypsi Alloy Studio Collective

“Ypsi is the Brooklyn to Ann Arbor’s Manhattan”… or so I’ve heard. What’s meant by that, I suppose, is that despite Ann Arbor’s reputation as a cultural mecca, the increase  in real estate prices and taxes over the last few decades has driven artists and creatives of all kinds to relocate from Ann Arbor to cheaper digs in neighboring Ypsilanti. A vibrant underground arts scene has emerged there recently and I got  a chance to at least start exploring it by visiting Ypsi Alloy Studio Collective during First Friday’s monthly crawl of studios and galleries.

Ypsi Alloy Studio Collective  is a new kind of art animal, part open studio, part maker space. It’s  located in a big warehouse- type building in an industrial park on the outskirts of town.  The  artists share space, tools, utility costs  and inspiration.  I was immediately struck by the collegial atmosphere.

All the artists, most of whom are graduates of Eastern Michigan University, (5 of 12 were in attendance) are very focused on the making of objects that occupy the intersection of craft and fine art. The zeitgeist of southeastern Michigan is still very much  one of the manufacturing of things and these graduates of  Eastern Michigan University’s Art Department seem to reflect that.

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Jaw by Jessica Tenbusch

I knew only one of the artists going in: Jessica Tenbusch, a metalsmith and sculptor with whom I had shown work at the Walter E. Terhune Gallery in Perrysburg, Ohio, earlier this year.  Jessica was awarded a  prize for her sculpture, no doubt  the first of many honors to come. In her art practice, Tenbusch combines silver metalwork and  found natural objects such as bones, antlers, animals preserved in resin and the like. You can see more of her art here. Her work is mostly small scale, reflecting the size of the natural objects she incorporates into her sculptures.  Her objects and silver jewelry evoke her interest in the interplay between life and death in the natural world.

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Window in Aqua by Cathy Jacobs

I had an interesting conversation with Cathy Jacobs about her journey from painter to fiber artist; One particularly thoughtful piece was Window in Aqua, a series of handwoven translucent scrims suspended from a wooden framework.  The artwork is meant to be both seen and seen through.

I was also impressed by the furniture  of Lauren Mleczko and Molly Doak of Lomo Collective. They make furniture from an inventive array of re-purposed chair parts, laminated plywood and found woods, sometimes going so far as to hand weave and dye the fabrics they employ in their upholstery.

Plenty of art remains still to be seen in Ypsilanti (I barely scratched the surface), but I will have to wait until the next First Friday in July.  And I’m looking forward to seeing the work of the other 9 artists at Ypsi Alloy Studio Collective soon.

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Handmade bench with hand woven upholstery fabric by Lomo Collective

First Fridays Ypsilanti is a self-guided art walk that happens on the First Friday of each month.  All venues provide free art events including displayed art, live music, art workshops, puppet shows and more.  For more information go to FirstFridaysYpsi