In A Theory of Craft, author Howard Rissati wrote: “Recognition only comes from knowing.” Although he was discussing Hans-Georg Gadamer’s concept of mimesis, his sentiment is something that has remained with me and somehow continues to resonate when I view compelling works from the fibers and textiles discipline. Intrinsic feelings of intimacy, understanding, and knowledge come to the surface and I am always completely captivated to my core. Although the fiber works were quite sparse at this year’s fair, there were a few that were of such quality that quantity became of little concern.
Black Shell by Frederica Luzzi (presented by browngrotta arts) had presence in spades, and it was perfectly suited as one of the first works visible from the entrance to the fair. It is a bold, large, and three-dimensional, cotton wall-hanging that densely drapes across the wall, both sagging and bulging as if it had exhaustingly heaved itself upon the partition. Inspired by the Italian term conchiglia, which means conch, Luzzi translates the idea of coverings, of what she calls “when shapes shut themselves up” into abstract forms that slump and protrude in long misshaped sections. The density of her weave and the depth of her color convey a presence of a carcass or a skeleton or a casing; an intimidating harshness that is challenged by the softness of the material and folding vertical demarcations of what could be considered a once fragile body (or vessel of one). Simultaneously, it is as if the piece is collapsing in on itself and at any moment is going to plunge to the floor into a deformed heap; yet, at the same time, it appears to expand and contract within and beyond itself, clinging to the wall in desperation. It is a magnetic work that had a profound impact, and I found myself going back to it again and again looking for something to have happened while I was gone. It remained unchanged; I, however, did not.
Artist Lenore Tawney once said of her practice, “Each work seems to be called up from a bottomless chaos and despite the magic order it finds in the artist’s creation, retains always the memory of the original chaos to which it is destined to return.” One view of her exquisite work Waterfall, and it is obvious that this rather simple form reflects complicated conceptual pursuits of self, serenity, and security; often chaotic and often unrealized. It is a perfect example of the innovative, woven work Tawney is celebrated for and that, incidentally, helped construct and define the contemporary fiber art movement. Made of rows and rows of thick strands of linen layered and piled, Tawney exaggerated the notion of the infinite as there is no true beginning or ending here, where each layer begins and ends coyly blends into the next – with one exception. The second tier of loose, nonfunctional looped threads, the color of flesh, are aggressively knotted to the first tier, grasping for a connection to the threads that are intricately and securely woven in horizontal rows above. Reflective of Tawney’s personal spiritual journey and concern for the intangible truth, the blushing threads become surrogates for the ideas surrounding the frailty and impermanence of life that are clinging to the open-ended black strands of what exists – whether that is the physical universe, the actual natural environment, or the spiritual concepts of connectivity is open to interpretation. Regardless, I find myself in communion with this piece, calmly searching between the slivers for the next layer; for the answers I believe Tawney sought to reveal.
Tucked away on the backside of browngrotta arts’ booth, I found the substantial work of Sherri Smith: Linde Star, a stunning three-dimensional, complex strip-woven wall-hanging that caught me completely by surprise. Derived from mathematics and the sciences, Smith’s pattern references geometry, the cosmos, the atom, and, of course, the star sapphire (also known as Linde star). From a distance, it appears as a dense black field with hints of flesh tones, but it is upon a more detailed assessment (as seen in detail image shown at top) that the true depth of Smith’s skill emerges. It is ambitious and successful in its subtle illusion, each strip is a combination of black and gray grounds covered in rows of light to dark peach threads that protrude from the surface as softly curved cubes. It is an enlightening composition that raises both coincidental and divergent conceptual questions of the individual vs. the universe in a number of thoughtful directions. Either way, neither exists without the other and from micro to macro, Smith offers a rich and mature perspective on both.
The work of Mary Giles (presented by Duane Reed Gallery) is all about perspective. Golden Divide, constructed using the traditional basketry technique of coiling that combines waxed linen with metal embellishments of copper or iron, is a form decisively split in two; and it is within that divide that Giles’ simple vessels become something altogether new. The wiry exterior, bushy like an animal’s hide, ruptures to reveal a magical and golden interior of shimmering metal scales – an actual action and reaction that glistens and gleams from the inside out. Referential to nature in its form (and in its presentation on a petite driftwood shelf), this anthropomorphic crevice becomes the significant pause, the totem for the human condition, of the need for and the impact of intimacy in relationships. At once colliding and separating, each form dominates the other in some way, either in height or length; thus, from either perspective there is no victor as both must cede to the other in order to be whole. And herein, as Giles so shrewdly presents, lies the beauty and truth of genuine intimacy.
And finally, Catherine Blackburn’s work (presented by Creative Saskatchewan) embraces two inspirations in her life: family and culture; but it also depicts the power of tradition coupled with innovation in artistic practice and use of materials. Sisters, is a quiet but impactful series of seven portraits constructed from acrylic gel transfers, each carefully dressed in floral-patterned sweaters woven of micro-beads, and framed together in decadent rabbit fur. Using beadwork patterns found on traditional Dene clothing, Blackburn interprets and reinterprets the patterns from her First Nation culture into tributes to those who have and continue to inspire and guide her life. And in doing so, she finds her own identity as a modern Dene woman. Blackburn’s greatest strength is her use of materials: the lush rabbit fur nearly suffocates the work only providing small gaps for the portraits cut out from its fluffy, marbled gray hide; and her delicate meticulous bead work perfectly captures the sense of pride and history that she so obviously cherishes and champions. As I scan the faces of each of the sisters, I find striking similarities: plump cheeks, bold eyebrows, direct gazes, and easy smiles; and I muse about the title and relationships of sisters. It is unknown if these women are actual sisters or members of the same nation; but Blackburn’s point is made regardless of the distinction. It is obvious that the women who have shaped her (either from her family and/or her culture) are coveted, and worthy of such a sumptuous commemoration.
For more information about these artists and galleries, visit: www.sofaexpo.com And be sure to make plans to attend next year’s fair: November 3 – 6, 2016
Images (from top to bottom): Sherri Smith, Linde Star (detail), 1976, plaiting, discharge, cotton webbing, 36 x 33.75 inches, presented by browngrotta arts; Frederica Luzzi, Black Shell, 2009, cotton, wood, 60 x 49 x 9 inches, presented by browngrotta arts; Lenore Tawney, Waterfall, 1975, linen, 36 x 17 inches, presented by browngrotta arts; Sherri Smith, Linde Star, 1976, plaiting, discharge, cotton webbing, 36 x 33.75 inches, presented by browngrotta arts; Mary Giles, Golden Divide, 2015, waxed linen and hammered brass wire, iron and brass wire, driftwood shelf, 12 x 34 x 5 inches, presented by Duane Reed Gallery; Catherine Blackburn, Sisters (detail), 2015, beads and acrylic gel transfer on canvas, rabbit fur, 82 x 12 inches, presented by Creative Saskatchewan