I am back from the Surface Design Association's bi-annual conference Off the Grid. It was a wonderful experience, in fact, not to sound too Pollyanna-ish, I can't think of anything that marred the trip for me. The best part was that I met people that I had wanted to meet for a long time and hooked up with dear friends that I hadn't seen in years.
I also really loved Kansas City. It is a town filled with wonderful neighborhoods and areas that are filled with art galleries, shops and restaurants. I wish there had been more hours in the day. The galleries that featured artwork related to the conference were in the Crossroads District. I particularly loved the Blue Gallery exhibiting the work of Teresa Cole and Daniella Woolf, the artwork of Regina Benson at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery of Contemporary Art, and, of course, the Belger Art Center.
The image below is from the Blue Gallery site of one of Daniella Woolf's artworks. Tape Modern is a large installation of collected objects that have been sewn together, then dipped in wax. You can also see a detail of this installation and many others on her website. Jeanne has a wonderful blog post with photos from the exhibit here.
Tape Modern, 2006, encaustic mixed media, 108 x 102"
Nocturne, rayon, 23 x 31 x 7"
The Belger Arts Center hosted the SDA Member's Show as well as the work of four artists: El Anatsui, Jennifer Angus, Alice Kettle and Ray Materson. To be honest, I was completely blown away by being able to see the work of these four artists in one location in conjunction with the conference. Amazing!
El Anatsui's work has exploded on the art scene. His website is currently being revamped, but you can read about this Ghana artist and see samples of his artwork here. El Anatsui utilizes discarded metal to construct his large artworks. Seeing them in person, you see more of the pattern within pattern and the draping of the metal that speaks so much of textiles. It was visually so stunning. You can see an image of an artwork at the Belger on Deidre Adams blog here.
Jennifer Angus uses insects, most are HUGE, as a way to create a wallpaper pattern on the wall. In this article in Fiberarts Magazine, Jessica Hemmings writes about Angus' artwork as "… using wallpaper to cross the boundaries between decoration and expression by embedding surprising images within traditional patterns and challenging viewers’ expectations." I found it absolutely fascinating – yes, a bit creepy, but beautiful as well. The walls at the Belger were set up and painted by Angus' staff. The patterns were so beautiful, the antennae and legs providing connecting lines and the patterns on the insects themselves contributing to the overall look. Honestly, I had no idea that there were that many insects in the world that were that large. Specific images from the installation are up on Gerrie Congdon's blog.
A Terrible Beauty, 2006, insects and pins; sizes vary
Alice Kettle's artwork is narrative with tons of movement due to the abundance of stitching. The narratives aren't overt; they are couched beneath the mounds of stitching, almost as if you were looking at a scene while passing by on a train or car. You touch on a moment but it is fleeting. Her artwork is very powerful and you can spend tons of time just looking and immersing yourself into each story.
Finally I saw the artwork of Ray Materson. Ray gave a talk at the conference that was very inspiring. His journey has been tough and the story of how he began making tiny embroideries is fascinating. His work is roughly 3" x 2 1/2". When you saw his artwork on the screen during his talk, you knew intellectually that it was tiny but I could not appreciate just how tiny and how detailed each artwork was until viewing it in person. Ray began stitching these embroideries while in prison. He fashioned a hoop out of the lip of a bowl, sewed on his prison sheets initially, then moved to boxer shorts as his ground material (his mother sent them to him) and used the thread from socks as the embroidery thread. He still uses these materials today.
I really enjoyed each of these exhibits and meeting Ray Materson. Alice Kettle also taught at the conference; I would have loved to have taken her class and heard her speak; however, I feel fortunate to have seen all of this artwork in person. What a treat!