The challenge that artists using materials associated with fiber often face is that the physical materials themselves often upstage the conceptual essence. This can be a hurdle for artists working with fibers to overcome in getting accepted in a greater art hierarchy, or it can be resolved successfully, as seen in many of the outstanding works in Repetition and Ritual: New Sculpture in Fiber at the Jacqueline Casey Hudgens Center for the Arts in Duluth, Georgia [March 26-May 25, 2013]. This is not a “cutting edge” fiber art exhibition, rather it is a show about compulsive art making that superbly mixes the substantive with the tactile in pieces that speak to both head and heart.
Many of the exhibiting artists gravitated, or possibly even levitated—if the pattern of spiritual processes that several allude to is any indication—to fiber from other art mediums. The allure of fiber art is its seductive tactility: Think of protective cocoons, sex, the human body and mystical attachments to nature and the “other.” Since the 1960’s and ‘70’s, artists working with fibers have been creating works heavily influenced by that allure, and in response to a compelling draw of a hermetic, repetitive and ritualistic—but sometimes also communal—method of making.
Katerina Usvitsky and Emily Barletta breathe pulsating life into vessels and forms that allude to the female. In Mama (2011) Usvitsky contorts nylon stockings into a bulbous, hanging female form that hovers over a baby Titan birthed below. Conversely, Barletta’s pieces are little hives of holes, a colony of blood red openings forms secretive spaces that urge a viewer to come in closer…closer… Her Untitled (brain) and Untitled (fingers) are fascinating but the Untitled (roll) in the trio seems incongruously light-hearted in comparison to the other two (all yam and clay, 2008). And in Barletta’s repetitively stitched paper works there is a feminine fanaticism that the delicate stitch reinforces.
The power of a simple stitch cannot be denied. It can remain in its most basic technical form as line done in hand or machine embroidery, or it can be layered to create great depth of form and color. Meredith Re’Grimsley’s I’ve Washed and Eaten and Lovely Bind’s realistic, embroidered hands initially draw a viewer in for closer technical inspection. Perfection, delicacy and attention to detail are evident , and hands are powerful imagery for Re’Grimsley. The ties that bind—or in this case, the threads that hang—take on sinister meaning. She employs them to convey a deep, psychological connection with, while simultaneously seeking reaction from, her viewer. Jennifer Crenshaw’s Metallic Matisse (2012) is installed right next to Re’Grimsley’s hands and is in strong contrast to Re’Grimsley’s delicate pieces due to the dense build up of layered thread and sense of frivolity. Crenshaw’s work is executed in free motion stitching using a sewing machine and metallic silver thread. Her work is a technically sound and decorative piece that shimmers as if temporarily caught in place before it will surely alight off the wall.
Red is a heavy color fraught with biological connotation, cultural connection and psychological depth. Artist Amy Gross and show curator Sonya Yong James’s pieces were standouts, and in no small part because of this. Colony (2013) by Yong James, a large red felted and shibori hanging, depicts a showy kingdom of fungi tamed into a grid plan reminiscent of a weave. Yong James finds inspiration in nature and defines her work as universal archetypes of immortality and regeneration. Both of Gross’s works, Contagious (2010) and Red Collection (2011) exemplify organic mushroom-growing, fiber-artiness at its best. Her ability to combine craft materials, store-bought moss, and a DIY ethos into fascinating little worlds and creatures that suck a viewer in for a long look, could easily become an example of materials upstaging the concept. However, it’s not so in Gross’s pieces: It is clearly evident that a transformation occurs in said materials, and they mimic the quickly changing world that she desires to hold on to a little longer.
Whereas Gross’s and James’s pieces are heavily invested in how the material is revered, Kim Matthews is working intentionally toward creating concept first, placing materials second by taming and hardening them. Her works are the least “touchy feely” in the exhibition. In fact, they repel, by nature of hard texture and neutral color. Matthews states, “After working (with biomorphic-influenced forms) for several years, I found that viewers were concerning themselves with identifying the sources of the imagery rather than of the works themselves.” Thus she began exploring a different way of working, still within the boundary of fiber. Matthews’s Relief 8 (2012), mixed-media on canvas, actually seems incongruous nestled in the womb-like atmosphere created by the other works in the show. However, it serves as interesting resting place in the exhibition.
There are many fascinating pieces to see, works that definitely command possession of the Hudgens space. The dim, larger gallery beyond the smaller, light-filled entry gallery contributes to the womb-like atmosphere. Not mutually exclusive, the aesthetically organic combines with repetition and compulsive-based art making to meld together into an exhibition where profound ritual holds court and an obvious connection to materials is treated as a contribution to a satisfying whole. It is also obvious that these are artists who must create, and for whom the assembling, manipulating and presenting of materials is conscious, intent-based, and in thoughtful consideration of both our inner psychological and physical outer worlds.
Leisa Rich is a fiber artist working in 2D, 3D, sculpture and installation. She holds MFA and BFA degrees in Fiber and a B of Ed in Art. Leisa exhibits internationally, has work in many collections including the Dallas Museum of Art, The University of Texas-Pan American, The University of North Texas and the Kamm Foundation. Her work has been featured in many books including Noplaceness by Atlanta Art now, magazines, blogs, televised interviews and series including PBS’ Incontext. Leisa is the Director of the Galloway after school art program, teaches classes and workhops at Callanwolde and in her studio, and travels to teach at arts centers and universities around the U.S. She has a number of articles coming out this spring in U.S. and Australian publications.
House rules for commenting:
1. Please use a full first name. We do not support hiding behind anonymity.
2. All comments on BURNAWAY are moderated. Please be patient—we’ll do our best to keep up, but sometimes it may take us a bit to get to all of them.
3. BURNAWAY reserves the right to refuse or reject comments.
4. We support critically engaged arguments (both positive and negative), but please don’t be a jerk, ok? Comments should never be personally offensive in nature.