All Around Us

July 29th, 2012  |  Published in Announcements, Summer 2012

As hard as it is to imagine, not many years ago the word “environment” was seldom used at all in ordinary conversation, and even less in conjunction with art. Now it’s almost a standard inclusion in
everything, including paper towel commercials. One of the best, and most interesting, forays into the field is on display at AEC through September 14. Neither of the two artists, Jennifer Purdum nor Margi
Weir, pontificates, preaches or hysterically predicts future disasters laid on the doorstep of today’s way of living. They simply draw upon the truth to interpret far-reaching effects in ink
fantasies. At least, they reach the realm of fantasy via their individual creativity.

Purdum’s “mori” series emerges from her interest in historic artifacts designed to acknowledge our mortality. Far from mournful, she mixes human references with elements of construction. Woodworked
items either repeat or contain beautifully drawn near-human portions in lathed wood, tinted with washes of tender color that drip in straight lines to the bottom of their large rag paper formats. Their 42” x 42” sizes seem barely enough to contain both the blueprint-like drawings and often the curiously noted information that scatters around and inside the image. These messages even follow the drips in lieu of lined paper. She was intrigued by “Wunderkammer”, 16th century cabinets that often held mementos of the dead. Here the curiosity containers become curlicued, winding holders capable of keeping us safely from harm, or imprisoning us.

Speaking of imprisonment, there are seven smaller prints in a hallway which are downright scary. “Exodus” features solidly built wooden pieces, of no ordinary shape, prancing about on the edges of faded photographs. The objects are on legs, without faces or arms, but they hint at a complete human being inside. Subdivisions and unimaginative condos are the subjects of the photos, looking like yesterday’s ticky-tacky houses, casting today’s society as one hog-tied to a dull, universal life style.

Purdum also expresses her views in sculpture. “Carry On” kept me occupied for some time. It was supported on lathed wooden legs, crooked and far too many, some cut in half lengthwise, and topped by a child’s green stool holding a tiny desk. Sandwiched in the middle was an old, hard-sided red suitcase. Bungie cords held the whole thing together, and my admitted first thought was,”what’s in the case?” The mystery, alone, kept me circling the conglomeration for some time. I must admit I am a fan of found objects in art. Maybe it’s the familiarity, or a spark of old memory, but it gets me every time.

At first glance, Margi Weir’s elegant drawings simply look like houses. However, closer examination proves them to be so much more . The series is called “Frontline Detroit”, reminiscent of a term in battles. These homes and businesses were victims of the disaster which followed the manufacturing collapse in Detroit. Drawn in inks, these nearly perfect renditions took a minute to fully absorb the tragedy of the people who had occupied them. Where are the small businessmen now? Where are the families who lived in houses shown now as not much more than a chimney against which weather beaten beams prop temporarily. Some of these homes, their comfortable designs still identifiable, feature stubborn evergreen shrubs, a sad sign of the love once lavished on them. Few windows in any of these structures are unbroken, and graffiti now decorates proud facades.

Two 60 inch long drawings, in particular, seemed especially expressive. Frontline Detroit: Self Serve told its tale reading from left to right. It began with a deserted gas station, it’s former trade name, “Chevron”, nearly painted over. A roof which once sheltered drivers from the snow and rain, now guards over weeds and a dragging pile of tires. Moving down the little strip mall beside it, were small businesses: crumbling storefronts with peeling walls echoing past prosperity.

The other, also 60”, was Frontline Detroit: Groceries, Las Penos, even sadder in the memory of its neighborhood importance. Women congregated here daily, or sent their older children to pick up some
forgotten dinner ingredient. Often these little stores would cash checks, and even extend credit to the local residents. The owner was undoubtably known and respected.

All around these drawings are splatters of ink, somehow underscoring the violence that has been done here, rendering chaos with random dots and splashes. Weir calls these Snap Lines, produced by soaking cotton string in ink or thin acrylic paint, and snapping a taut line onto the support. The effect adds an immediacy. Something important has happened here, and to quote Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, “attention must be paid.”

Weir adds a line of eleven small works of unusual design. More like carefully woven cloth than drawings, each of them adds a true quirky surprise in its composition. Tapestry of Flight includes a line of identical space explorers, and Child’s Play is a jewel of tiny children bouncing along, almost, but not quite, unified in lines in the print.

The quality of these drawings and their content is excellent. As is so often the case, this presence of fine line overcomes everything. Curator Natalie Bowers refers in her statement to “the beauty…. of decay”. A perfect description.

– Fran Watson

Unstructured/ Structured at the Artisan Enterprise Center, 27 W. 7th Street, Covington, KY.

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