3 Textures at Stremmel Gallery
Standing in front of Carol Gove’s “Listening,” you feel like you are listening. And not just to the artist’s high-volume assemblage of ripped paper and paint—but also to the other pieces in the gallery.
You hear Gove’s other work—mostly colorful, gestural paintings with collage elements up close. Or Eleanor McCain’s hand-dyed collection of fabric, sewn into giant, graphic, eye-bending quilts. Louise Forbush’s collages, barely audible, speak about vague landscapes in rust-colored paper, silk string, and old screens.
“Every once in a while, [we] branch out and do something a little bit new,” said Turkey Stremmel, co-owner of the Stremmel Gallery.
The exhibition, titled 3 Textures, definitely feels new. In addition to being the first all-woman, three-artist show at Stremmel, the exhibit is compelling for reasons mostly unrelated to gender. Besides its nods to women’s work (quilting and collaging), and crossover into a historically male-centric art movement (abstract expressionism), the most interesting parts of the show focus on the interaction between art and viewer.
The experience begins when you walk into the gallery and find yourself face-to-face with the quilt equivalent of oncoming traffic. It’s titled “Black and White Linear 9-Patch” and it’s easily as imposing as a semi-truck. Hanging 10 feet tall and 9 feet wide, this quilt—like all of McCain’s quilts—has only been slept under once by the artist. But its main purpose is not to keep you warm. It’s to shake you up.
“I like it when it’s kind of disturbing,” said McCain in a recent phone interview. “Like when you can’t quite tell where the field-object relationship starts and ends.”
Composed of 810 cotton patches in various shades of black and white, the quilt plays with field-object relationships by placing dark panels next to light ones, giving the impression of jutting and receding space. Up close, the quilt envelopes your peripheral, and from far away, it hijacks your entire sense of sight, making you believe that the white panels at each intersection are really pulsing dots.
Once you’ve been shocked by the quilts, the size of everything shrinks a little—the ceilings, the walls, the art on the walls—and you find yourself wandering into a smaller room of Gove’s paintings with titles like “Escalate,” “Heartache” and “Rush.” The look of the work matches the titles as sweeping brush strokes, bold colors, and saturated clouds of bleeding and dripping paint push into areas of calm. Initially high-speed, the experience is significantly slowed by the presence of collaged letters, torn graphics, and all manner of painted-over paper. It does all the things that good abstract expressionist paintings do and then some.
Gove’s paintings also serve as a bridge to Forbush’s work, located at the back of the gallery. Unlike the other work in the show, Forbush’s landscape-like collages bypass the body and go straight to your head. All are small, intimate, and tell a story best told in sepia-toned colors that evoke the past. Collaged elements include everything from sheet-music and 300-year-old Japanese book binding to handwritten ledgers and paper-thin dried vegetables. With so many collected elements, each piece seems less constructed than arranged. And this is no accident.
According to Forbush, everything she learned about art comes from her 15-year study of “ikebana”—the art of Japanese flower arranging. “Line, math, empty space, contrast, texture, asymmetrical balance,” listed the artist over the phone. “That’s where it started and it just grew and grew and grew.”
Like a blueprint for making art, but also for life.
Or as Stremmel puts it, “All of our lives are collages. They’re this piece and that piece put together and some over here and fragments over there.”