The three artists in this elegantly mounted show at the YWCA Women’s Art Gallery produce powerful effects on a small scale. The visual appeal of their work results from the details they apply to each piece with meticulous care. However, the natural, at times rough-hewn, manner in which they approach color, shape, and texture gives their monotypes and ceramics their real strength.
Mary Woodworth’s monotype/collagraph landscapes are the largest works in the show. Woodworth applies cutout paper images of mountains and bodies of water to print paper covered with images of orbs, birds, and other flying objects, such as fans and umbrellas. Some works contain human figures. Some images are repeated in different works. The visible edges of the cutout images add texture within the works and expose the artist’s process to the viewer. We are aware that these abstract landscapes have been constructed from brilliantly colored pieces of paper.
Color is the dominant element in Woodworth’s landscapes. Some have a limited range of color, others a strong color contrast. Dramatic mountain peaks are presented against a red-orange sky in “Negotiating the Border.” Nets that resemble clouds float in the sky along with a dark colored orb that seems to be made of hair. The lower ranges of the mountains are filled with patches of purple, orange, and brown, each patch filled with intricate line patterns. Viewed up close, this work can seem almost too busy. Like other of Woodworth’s large horizontal landscapes, it is seen best from a distance, where the artist’s bold compositional elements are evident and fully cohere.
“Uncharted Territory” is an abstract vertical landscape that bears a strong resemblance to a traditional Japanese woodblock print. Again, there is the contrast off mountains against sky. A bluish moon or sun, along with images of birds and fishes, are suspended in the red orange sky. The mountains surround a blue green sea in which a yellow island floats. Animal and flower images emerge from the landscape. Two sharp horizontal lines, the borders of the sea, segment the work into three panels, adding to its abstract, constructed quality. This monotype, with its stunning color contrasts and wonderfully detailed images, is one of Woodworth’s most unified works.
The jutting shapes and rough edges of Mary Woodworth’s abstract landscapes contrast with the minimalism of Andrea Knarr’s miniature landscapes. Like Woodworth, Knarr works in monotype, collage, and etching. Most of her works in this show follow a similar compositional model: a small, square image on paper is applied to the upper part of much larger vertical sheet of paper. The central image is an impressionistic landscape: dark earth and glowing sky, a clearing surrounded by vegetation, a body of water reflecting light. The surrounding boldly colored border can contain various design elements: cross hatching lines, flecks of black, flower-like shapes. The dramatic framing focuses the viewer’s attention on the image it surrounds.
With their flat earth tones and the texture produced by the subtle design elements, the borders resemble frescoed walls on which a delicate painting is hung. At first glance, the viewer is struck by the harmony of color between the borders and the landscapes. Knarr is adept at matching and contrasting shades of color. Ultimately, the coloration and the framing bring the viewer’s eye to the landscapes at the heart of each monotype. With minimal strokes and a limited color palette, Knarr sketches her natural scenes: earth, water, sky. The predominant element is a melancholy, fading light, which mutes the colors and suggests the end of a day, a season, a life. In “Field” and “Moss,” two works in a series, the landscape images have just enough detail to be interesting and the harmony of color is striking. Although the repetition of the compositional pattern in so many works runs the risk of monotony, at their best, Knarr’s small, isolated landscapes movingly evoke feelings of isolation and loneliness.
The ceramics of Didem Mert evoke a very different feeling. Here we see an artist joyfully at work. We are aware of the clay, of the artist’s shaping hand, of the beauty of her glazes. Mert works with classic shapes: cups, plates, bowls, and vases. She allows the beautiful colors of her high gloss blue and pink glazes to contrast with the natural terra cotta color of her clay. In pieces she humorously titles “Bling,” she applies thin coatings of gold lustre over her glazes. Many of her pieces are not perfectly shaped, as though she wanted to show the effort of the artist molding clay. Meticulous details appear everywhere in Mert’s ceramics. Her cups have tiny feet. The bottoms of her bowls have patterns worked into the clay. Glaze colors are repeated in small applied elements. Didem Mert’s ceramics could be said to be about the art of ceramics.
The timeless quality of Mert’s ceramics is evident in “Tipsy Sippin’ Cup Set.” A substantial unglazed rectangular tray with elaborate handles holds two delicate cups, beautifully glazed, inside and out. Per the joke contained in the title, the cups have rounded bottoms, but are perfectly balanced once removed from their holders. Such is Mert’s skill in design and execution with this piece that what at one glance appears to be just a set of cups for sipping bourbon on further inspection becomes a ceremonial vessel from an ancient civilization.
“Pur-Peel Cut Out Vase,” its title a play on the color of one of its glazes, is a ceramic masterpiece. This massive cylindrical vase, with a rough, textured surface, tapers slightly to a rim with square cutouts. The graceful rim is covered with a beautiful periwinkle blue glaze, which is repeated inside the vase. Below the rim is a band of a matt white glaze and below that is unglazed terra cotta. In its color scheme, the vase rises from the earth to the sky with the power of a primitive totem. The size and architectural structure of the vase contribute to its impressiveness. As with the works of the other women in this show, we are aware of the hand of an artist at work in the construction of this stunning ceramic.
Land, Light, Lustre runs through January 11, 2018
–Daniel A. Burr