“The Artist’s Craft” at The Carnegie

November 15th, 2011  |  Published in November 2011, On View

Though hardly indicative of the full breadth of contemporary craft art, the diversity of work presented in the “The Artist’s Craft” exhibit at The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center is a window into the ability of artists to use traditional materials to create surprising compositions that challenge, and resonate with, the viewers sensibilities.

Arturo Alonzo Sanduval’s Landing Portal #3 is an illustration of just such a paradigm shift. Utilizing fiber arts to compose an ethereal pattern of orbs floating on whisps of iridescent plastic that drew me into the wall hanging with near-vertigo sensations, Sanduval has manipulated a monochromatic space that mimics the depth and dimension of the universe. Framed in a contrasting blue ring, the two basic elements are tied together with a vibration of gold stitching, animating the work as I slowly pass by. The scale of the work makes it relevant to my personal space, increasing its magnetic appeal.

An ensemble of free-form woven baskets by Judy Dominic is a study in contrasts and conundrum. All three baskets illustrate non-patterned weaving that can distract the eye as easily the materials or shape. Each form has edges collapsing in on the enclosed space, creating a cave-like space both protective and vulnerable. Random weaving of suede, plastic tubing, or wide strips of birch bark loosely reveal the bones of the baskets, implying flexibility of the artist’s creative process, and intention itself.

Dominic’s “Fred, Ginger, and Her Younger Sister” slides off the basket genre into a visceral demonstration of transparency and structure. The “bones” of wood sticks once again provides the framework for stretched pig gut, thin enough for light to reveal its translucent nature, the innards of the structure dancing behind the curtain of swirling texture inherent in the animal material. The stretched material strains at the edges of wood, creating in my mind a response of tension in my gut.

At the risk of pigeonholing, I would label Raymond Papka’s works “Atlas” and Eyebook II” as steam-punk treatments of book media, with blurred nautical images antiqued beneath layers of waxy film like logos softened by the ice at a hockey rink. These illusive images draw the viewer in closer to examine map images and assemblages, barely resisting the temptation to caress the artifacts/artworks. Resigned to visual scrutiny, my eyes run across the surface, exploring contrasts of bolts and cue balls, the relief of cutouts and layered appliqués, topped off with a contemporary touch of computer circuitry that spans time with leap-frogged references, creating a connection from an elusive past to the present day. The time warp occurs with anthropomorphic references to eyeballs, recessed and protruding, bringing into focus the relevant time line of life and knowledge. Can the book/knowledge see into the future?

David R. Farmer’s series of landscapes which includes the canvas “Line of Trees” is a group of paintings that use a forest scene of white birch tree trunks as the framework for colorful stippled leaf canopies that shift in hue across the surface. The emphasis seems to be on the bold pointillist effect utilizing a palette of fluorescent-bright colors; green, yellow, blue, and pink. Though some canvases are more successful than others, they rarely escape the viewer’s mental process of analysis and curiosity about why and how, and less on “what does it do for me?”

The elongated form of “Turbulence” smoothly reaches for the ceiling, the only sense of chaos coming from delicate swirls of metal that could easily represent wisps of smoke or fog, or the path of sprites among tall tree trunks. One of the hallmarks of great artists is that they make it look easy. Roberta Elliot has created an elegant example of technical mastery that allows the imagination of the artist to have full voice. Those who are oblivious to the techniques will be mesmerized by the subtle, pulsating energy of this piece.

Though the exposed gears of Keith Chambers’ “Wooden Gear Clock” appeal to the construction curiosity and engineer sensibilities in some, the fascination in this piece is the open design that seems to represent an internal “box”, while at the same time containing the structure of a stylized stool. The tension that it creates with the inviting thick maple seat resting above the clock works of delicately large, wooden, hand-carved gears leaves one with a visceral reaction of should/shouldn’t based on the conflicting utilitarian purposes. Clocks traditionally are object for the eyes and the mind, and stools are tactile to an extreme.

Aside from the visceral effect, I find significance in the conundrum of rest and movement. If I were to sit on this stool, I would be at rest, supported, embracing stillness, motionless. While sitting, the gears would continue their delicate movement, calculations of intervals of change, counting off the seconds and minutes and hours of life. Does sitting on time enhance the value of rest? Does it enhance a sense of urgency, a sense that time is going by and opportunities lost as I rest and ruminate? In today’s hurry and bustle of constant “doing,” is there an emotional conflict in the mere opportunity to stop, sit, “do” nothing, and just be? Is there a conflict in value between doing and being?

The series focusing on tree landscapes seem pedestrian in their motif and theme, yet these large photographs by Dean Hill contain an atmosphere that carries an air of magic. In one, the fog or mist is sliced by the sun high above the canopy of trees; in another I can feel the coolness of the fog that rolls off the lake before the morning sun dissolves it. In “Sitting Among Giants,” the simplistic stand of massive, ancient trunks begs one to discard shoes and socks and stroll through the lush, green grass, to sit on the lone bench and turn one’s face into the sun.

Approaching the photograph “Koi Pond,” my brain struggles to sort through the layers of light, color, shapes, and darkness that my eyes are receiving. Unaware of any intellectual, emotional, or spiritual implications from the artist, this photograph is a sensual indulgence. Through Dobree Adams’ ability to emphasize surfaces, textures, and shapes, I am left with an overload of input from some very simple elements. The complexity rises from the level of detail and the juxtaposed darkness on which the fish float. The food pellets the koi are swimming among seem poised in relief on the surface of the photographic paper, frozen in time as it spills over the lip of one rising fish, sliding into its gaping mouth. The reflection on the swirling water’s surface of sky and structure suspended above the viewer’s head adds another layer, as I notice the soft delicacy of the fish fins that flow like brush strokes in the water.

This exhibit of Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen (KGAC) 50th Anniversary Show is a broad representation of artistic expression that is not limited by the medium or the label of “craft.” The show left me expanding my own horizons of possibilities, liberating me from outdated paradigms of limitation.

–Larry Watson


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