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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fiber Currents/Current Fiber at FMCC

Patricia Kennedy-Zafred - Childhood Lost: The Doffer Boys, mixed-media cotton quilt
A long wished-for exhibition is now a reality at Fulton-Montgomery Community College's Perrella Gallery in Johnstown. Gallery Director Joel Chapin wanted a national fiber show, but needed expert help in creating it. He found that help in the form of Bleecker fiber artist Judith Plotner, who agreed to take on the project - the result is Fiber Currents/Current Fiber, on view through Dec. 18.

A first-time (and, according to her, also last-time) curator, Plotner has ably organized a diverse selection of 21 artists from all over the United States to fill this clean and pleasant (if somewhat tight) space with high-quality and engaging fiber-based work. These are not your great-grandmother's log cabin quilts (though quilting is strongly present); rather, this is contemporary art by top-shelf makers who utilize cloth, thread, vines, wire, plastic - and much more - to realize their personal visions.

Judith Content - Icarus, dyed satin silk
I'm a color guy, and my expectation to be dazzled by bright, rich fabrics was immediately fulfilled: The largest piece in the show is visible straight across from the entrance, and it positively glows with the energy of a brilliant palette. Pat Pauly (Rochester, N.Y.) hand-cut, hand-pieced, and hand-quilted numerous vividly printed and dyed fabrics to create the 6-foot-by-7-foot Pink Leaf 4 (yellow), a nature-inspired abstract that would rival any modern painting. It also graces the cover of a handsome catalog that was produced for the show and features full-page color reproductions of each work in Fiber Currents.

Emily Dvorin - Kid Stuff, mixed media
Judith Content (Palo Alto, Calif.) also drew my attention with her shibori dyed silk satin hanging Icarus, which updates the Greek myth, takes it east via a kimono shape, and drenches it in a rainbow of colors. Other explosions of color come from two of the four sculptural pieces in the show: Emily Dvorin's (Kentfield, Calif.) irresistible Kid Stuff incorporates dollar-store materials into a playful basket form; and Jill Rumoshosky Werner (Bella Vista, Ariz.) presents a snaking belt of multi-hued cotton that loops out of a propped-open clamshell box. Both pieces, being quite animated, are a welcome break from the preponderance of wall-hung work.

Judith Plotner - Brooklyn Ensemble
printed, stitched and painted canvas
On the other end of the spectrum, many works here use a limited palette, and many of those incorporate images derived from photographs, often applying them to the fabric with printmaking techniques. This is a successful strategy that can add texture as well as content to the works, and set them apart from their siblings in the craft world. Among these pieces are a few that take on social issues, such as Patricia Kennedy-Zafred's (Murrysville, Pa.) haunting and beautiful Childhood Lost: The Doffer Boys (pictured at the top of this post), Linda Kolsh's (Middletown, Md.) masterfully delicate Twilight, and Plotner's own Brooklyn Ensemble.

In addition to Plotner, Niskayuna's Lori Lupe Pelish and Russell Serrianne of Glens Falls (the show's lone male participant), represent the greater Capital Region. Serrianne's use of shellacked grape vines perhaps pushes the definition of fiber the furthest - along with New York City artist Nancy Koenigsberg's Melon, a "drawing in metal" that uses nothing but copper wire to depict a pumpkin-ish fruit.

Lori Lupe Pelish - The Circus Life
appliqued, embroidered and quilted fabric
Pelish uses elaborate piecing technique to create detailed portraits out of printed fabric, as in The Circus Life, while other artists in the show achieve a similar richness by combining imagery with heavy stitching, especially Dominie Nash (Bethesda, Md.) and Wen Redmond (Strafford, N.H). Still others achieve these depths with stitching and surface treatment alone, including Kevan Lunney (East Brunswick, N.J.) and Sue Cavanaugh (Columbus, Ohio), whose triptych Ori-Kume #31 is among the most impressive works in the show, both technically and in its effect on the viewer.

Many of the artists in Fiber Currents incorporate words into their work, often for political purposes (such as Highland Park, Ill.'s Kathy Weaver, work pictured below), which places this show squarely in the postmodern time frame - a time when artists have pushed all kinds of boundaries. Though here the primary boundary is one of materials (and it is well stretched by the artists included) it makes sense that these same artists are stretching other boundaries as well.

Kathy Weaver - Habeus Corpus-The Great Writ
nylon line and airbrushed, hand-stitched cotton

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