Woven & Stitched: Renee Harris & JoAnne Russo

By Lily Mulberry

‏ Basket weaving and embroidery are functional crafts used by people across the globe throughout history, and in this exhibition they are made as purposeful to fine art as painting or bronze sculpture. The artists’ use of these media ‘elevate’ the crafts to art, while the incredible skills alone create a new vocabulary.

‏ The first works seen upon entering the Rieveschl Gallery at The Carnegie Arts Center are pod-shaped woven baskets connected organically with coiled paper limbs by a basket weaver from Vermont named JoAnne Russo. Her sculptures take on the shapes of corn husks, seed pods, bee hives, and flowers. The skill represented in the artist’s work is dazzling; the intricacy, time, and care ever apparent. The exhibition’s theme is articulated through the basket, made to carry things from one place to another, just as pollinators carry the fertilizing pollen from flower to flower. Particularly endearing is Hives which consists of tiny woven bee hives with coiled wings covered in bee-colored wooden buttons.

‏ The idea of the basket is reworked into the exhibition’s theme of pollination and man’s manipulation of our environment. She references pollination with GMO species causing mutations to spread and for plants to become more modified than natural across the globe.  In Mutation II, a pedestal piece composed of many small pods that grow from a tangled black stem, the seeds and buds of a genetically modified plant grow unnaturally as the woven pods entwine themselves in strange variations showing characteristics not originally native to the form. Metal hook and eye closures grow out of the bottoms of the pods, where they are not supposed to be. Visually the dress closures are lovely accents to the piece. Russo uses buttons on many of the pieces to serve the same function.

‏ Intermixed with the sculpture on the walls of the gallery Renee Harris uses embroidery to articulate the same themes in her series of mixed media and fabric tableaux. In her Pollinator Series, of which Bird is pictured here, Harris uses embroidery, colored pencil, and inclusion papers on textured mountings. The four pollinators the artist depicts are a bird, butterfly, bat, and bee; the bee is the most obvious, while the others are portrayed to remind and educate the viewer.

‏ Throughout Harris’s work her deft embroidery skills shine while her drawing and paper mounting abilities do everything to complement the stitches. In every piece the artist uses new techniques, knots, and textures to articulate the varying surfaces and themes in her work. Thirsty from the Does It See Me? series stands out as an extremely successful use of paper and thread in unexpected variations. The three bright green fish heads float above the surface of the piece, just as they do above the paper water. The embroidery floss in the fish heads appears matted and tangled, as it does in none of Harris’s other work in the exhibition. The fish heads are thick three dimensional shapes that jump out from the piece. Harris employs yarn to create the polluted ripples in the water, and also to visually tie the fish heads back into the multicolored paper surface. Finally thin stitches of gray vertically fall over the scene like rain.

‏ Spending time with the work of these two artists one is left with a richness distilled in the fine craft they possess, as well as an awakening to environmental awareness and the need for change. The exhibition continues through December 1st, 2013.



‏Written by Lily Mulberry, Director and Owner of 1305 Gallery. 1305 Gallery has been an independent art gallery showcasing solo work by local and regional artist in downtown Cincinnati/OTR for nine years.

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