Work of human hands

Two Humanities Center Gallery shows provide totally organic experience

“Power Briker” (detail) ceramic, Cameron Crawford, 2003.

“Power Briker” (detail) ceramic, Cameron Crawford, 2003.

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Patricia K. Kelly passes the egg back and forth between her hands, allowing the white of the egg to separate from the yolk. “The white,” she explains while her hands busy themselves with removing the sac, “prevents the yolk from binding with the pigment.” She slips the yolk into a waiting mussel shell. “It is a delicate process.”

This process, while meditative and slow, results in a medium infused with life. The pigment itself is organic matter, bits of crushed bone and rock. When combined with egg, this tempera paint possesses a crystalline, refractive quality. On canvas, it refuses to lie flat. Through rough patches and glimmers, its organic nature is revealed.

This “material connection” between Kelly and her medium expands to include the subject matter for Peripheral Landscapes. Views from far above the earth are suggested by patchworks of rich, whole color, interrupted with rivers of sparkling blues and congregations of dots.

There are no horizons—these visions do not vary so much in distance as in form and shape. Achieved is a sort of “reverse perspective,” whereby she explains that the vanishing point is “in the spectator, not in the work.”

In her soft British accent, Kelly elaborates that our ancient, or “atavistic links to landscapes sometimes gets buried in the hurly-burly of life.” The work in her current show, these tactile, earthy landforms, “implies what’s on the margins, what’s been marginalized.”

As her talk winds to a close, Kelly reveals that in art school “it was terribly important to be original, it was terribly important to not be what I was.” Inspired by traditional iconography, where the “ego isn’t present,” she realized the need to “go to tradition to rediscover my roots as a painter.”

“Transfusion,” egg tempera on gesso panel, Patricia K. Kelly.

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In Cameron Crawford’s “New Works,” the rediscovery is of so-called “architectural terra-cotta,” fragments of buildings and functional structures from the past.

“I’ve always been, for some reason, drawn to ruins; I’m one of those people who like ruined things.” Crawford laughs at his confession. “I love driving out in the fields … just looking at the old farmhouses that are falling apart.”

Such ruins suggest a past history, a manufactured life. Crawford creates his own imagined cast-offs, illusionary broken pieces, and brings them together using replicated industrial bolts and staples. Chunky slabs of cement embedded with small round boulders, broken sheets of teal and blue tile, extruded brick and drainage pipes and rebar, all created from clay, reunite in Crawford’s hands into fantastic new forms.

Helmeted creatures teeter on simulated iron bars. Aged faucets are poised, at the ready to (once again) dribble water into waiting sinks.

“Part of what I’m trying to do with these fragments is suggest that they might have been part of something else, how they’re durable and they’re what has remained, a fragment that has resisted the damage or decay or erosion or whatever [the] natural aging process is… So at the same time they’re suggesting that they’re something strong, but they’re also suggesting what’s been lost.”

These pieces carry with them a larger metaphor, of breakdown and repair in human life. Crawford sees this as a hopeful spirit in people, creating a new whole from our own broken parts.

“Our lives fall apart, but somehow we put them together… We pick up other pieces and we put something together and we go on."