Painting with Objects: Shawne Major at Marcia Wood

Shawne Major, Dragoon, 2013; Mixed media including fabric, rope, ribbon, dolls, Xmas lights, plastic Xmas tree branches, beads, plush toys, fake foliage, hoses, electrical and computer cords, scarves, poultry netting, 74 by 63 inches
Shawne Major, Dragoon, 2013; fabric, rope, ribbon, dolls, lights, plastic foliage, beads, plush toys, hoses, electrical and computer cords, scarves, poultry netting, 74 by 63 inches.

The works in Shawne Major’s latest exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery Midtown, titled “Surface Tension,” show the artist’s interest in expanding the boundaries of form, composition, and medium in her work. At first glance, the works appear to be tapestries; however, on closer examination, these assemblages encapsulate the language of both sculpture and painting. Major’s use of color, form, and shape speak to her training in these traditional mediums. Up close, the works have such a creatively detailed surface full of disparate parts that they become hard to classify. Are they weavings? Soft sculpture? Mixed-media paintings? Perhaps, a little bit of everything.

Installation view of works by Shawne Major at Marcia Wood Gallery Midtown, titled “Surface Tension."
Installation view of works by Shawne Major
at Marcia Wood Gallery Midtown.

Dealer Marcia Wood said the best description of the work that she’s heard came from a visitor “Stuffed Paintings.” From afar they look fluffy and light, but these works are weighty—literally. Hanging them requires heavy-duty wall anchors. Some of these assemblages have several inches of materials attached to the surface, like thick impasto paint on canvas. Major used chicken netting as a base to sew on felt, fabric, found objects, and other items to give the artworks incredible texture. Imagine the energetic composition of a Jackson Pollock painting mixed with the intrigue of a Robert Rauschenberg combine, and you have a general picture of her work. Major has a BFA in painting and an MFA in sculpture, and you can see the way she combines 2-D and 3-D techniques in these assemblages.

My favorite aspect of these works is the variety of materials used to create them. The color and texture of these materials stand in for paint and numerous techniques. Red shotgun shells pepper the surface of one work like daubs of bright paint. A vacuum cleaner hose meanders across another one, as if Major had made a long brush stroke with black paint. Beads and baubles dot the works like pointillist marks in an impressionistic scene. Some materials repeat in specific works and bring in an added layer of meaning. One looks remarkably like layers of earth carved out over eons of erosion; on closer inspection, you see several watches embedded in the surface. They don’t tick or move forward; each timepiece is stuck in the work like a layer of sediment revealed by millennia of decay.

Detail of Dementophobia, 2012; mixed media, 76 by 7 inches.
Detail of Dementophobia, 2012; mixed media,
76 by 70 inches.

Major uses several different compositional forms in these “stuffed” paintings. Starbursts, plaids, and circuitry patterns are among my favorites. I prefer these more controlled compositions because they made better sense of the materials. Buttons, beads, and bracelets have more of an impact when they are working together in a cohesive style. These stronger works look just as good from afar as they do up close. Ironically, some of Major’s pieces with fewer objects are too chaotic; from a few feet away, the materials blend together in an incomprehensible splatter. Because none of the works in this show are perfectly quilted pieces, they are neither flat nor even-edged. I was reminded of when I made a cardboard loom in elementary school. Sometimes I made the weft too tight or too loose, causing my weaving to become wavy at the edges. Major’s assemblages undulate in a similar style; however, her wobbly lines add to the organic, handmade look of the pieces.

These assemblages are defined by an intense amount of artistic handiwork, creative use of everyday materials, and an intriguing collision of color, shape, and form. Major repurposes kitsch, craft, and other objects in a way that elevates them to the level of fine art. We all have a drawer (or several) full of junk accumulated over years of mindless hoarding, and Major’s transformation of these mass-produced, everyday objects into fine art is a form of subversive poetry.

Shawne Major, Blind Alley, 2015; costume jewelry, beads, ribbon, watches, rope, string, and braid sewn onto base of clothing and window screen, 60 by 42 inches.
Shawne Major, Blind Alley, 2015; costume jewelry, beads, ribbon, watches, rope, string, and braid sewn onto base of clothing and window screen,
60 by 42 inches.

“Surface Tension is on view through July 25. A closing reception will be held on July 24, 7-9pm, with an artist’s talk at 8.

Matthew Terrell writes, photographs, and creates videos in the fine city of Atlanta. His work can be found regularly on the Huffington Post, where he covers such subjects as the queer history of the South, drag culture, and gay men’s health issues. 

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