Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Down from the Hills

In terms of the art produced, one place in the US may look pretty much like every place else with variations in the number of artists, the number making their living from art, the number with art school training, etc. Still, there are some regional differences, subtle but explicable. In Tennessee, like other parts of the South, the crafts have probably formed a larger portion of overall artistic production and they seem more integrated with what is called fine art. This is due to the persistence of folk forms, threatened as they are by mass culture and suburban banality. People still play bluegrass and string band music. They still weave. And the state is home to two leading schools for preserving these visual traditions, Arrowmont (http://www.arrowmont.org/) in Gatlinburg and the Appalachian Center for Craft (ACC) in Smithville (http://www.tntech.edu/craftcenter/index.html ).

Belmont’s Leu Gallery has an exhibit of work by the ACC faculty and resident artists up right now. A couple of the younger faculty, Wesley Smith and Lisa Klakulak, are revelations, and there are interesting pieces from others.

Smith is a ceramicist who uses the medium sculpturally, like Jason Briggs (who also had ACC affiliation). “Bio Saucer” is in almost a basket form, but I don’t think it is a vessel with a detachable top. Bulbous forms in earthy blues and grays protrude from the lower half, and the top is a matte black surface accented by silver buttons embedded in the clay. On top, a circular section holds a jumble of metal forms fused together – strands, elongated drops, globs, and rings made from silver, platinum and hematite. It is like the nest of a bird which has stolen bright objects or the cache of a covetous troll.

“Spheres of Knowledge” are three forms that are not spheres, but polyhedrons. The border of each facets is delineated with colored paint, and some have a silver-colored bead in the center. On the largest of the “spheres,” one of the facets has been replaced with a mess of organic forms that look like worms, and tubes in green with black stripes connect that mess to some of the adjacent facets. Both of these pieces play with organic/inorganic contrasts and hybrids.

Lisa Klakulak also introduces organic material into her fabric and woven pieces. “Relinquish” is in the shape of an turtle shell turned upside down, with its bottom plate intact but empty of a turtle, what remains after one dies. It should be morbid, but it’s more a soothing, tureen-like shape that doesn’t quite have a clear functional purpose. She also has an orange felt handbag with conical shells worked into the surface, adding a rough, sharp texture to the soft fabric, but also forming legs the bag can stand on. My favorite piece was a necklace woven from small glass seed beads that incorporate chunks of abalone shell. The shell fragments look like a mineral deposit, which they basically are, though produced through organic means.

Bob Coogan, a longtime metalworking faculty member showed a lot of range. One bracelet holds a section of sword blade that would run parallel to the arm. It looks a bit threatening for jewelry, but one imagines Coogan working on blademaking techniques and looking for ways to use the results other than for knives. The exhibit also has a canister of his made with a rugged-looking steel base and a firm copper lid, and two exquisite sake cups whose bases are marbled with silver and a darker colored metal using a technique called mokume-gane which fuses stacks of metal which are then carved and rolled (these were also shown in the Tennessee State Museum crafts show this winter, I think).

Two of the woodworkers made interesting mirrors. Graham Campbell’s “FimFamFum” is a full length mirror whose frame is thicker and deeper at the bottom, creating a perspective illusion that it is leaning against the wall although the reflection is undistorted. Kimberly Winkle has two thin mirrors, one horizontal (“Zipper”) and one vertical (“Sliver”). The frames are much thicker than the mirror, and Sliver is especially thin, so the mirror is less a tool for observing yourself than an element that creates a flash of reflection that produce an independent effect in a room.

All of the work is attractive and appears well constructed. One of the things about the crafts is that those things are still important and sufficient for the work to have merit. I’ve chosen to discuss the ones that I think present more challenges as objects to be viewed. Depending on your view of the matter, this may seen like forcing the works in these media into the conceptual frameworks used for encountering painting, sculpture, and so forth, or this is how you break down the barrier between media carried by the crafts/fine arts taxonomy.

According to our listing in the Scene, the Belmont show will be up through July 8.

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