In December, I spent some quiet time in the Regional Gallery of Spiva Center for the Arts. The show was Four Women / Four Visions – Contemporary Fiber. Each artist is from Oklahoma, has a distinctive sensibility, but as a whole, the works talk to each other in this intimate but strangely vast gallery space. I went seeking respite, to connect with some art, to look hard, and try to wake my drawing hand from a too-long slumber.
I was immediately grabbed by this series of small works by Julie Marks Blackstone of Shawnee, Oklahoma. The color screamed, of course, but my recognition of art historical references cleverly juxtaposed is what kept me there, only reading the signage after I tried to make my own connections. I giggled and even guffawed with delight at her cleverness. This series made me wish that I had Artist Card packs as a kid, complete with a flat sheet of tasteless bubblegum. I avidly collected the Topps baseball cards, why not Artist Cards? I have no idea how time-consuming and/or difficult French knots may be, but as an artist who enjoys making highly crafted pieces that take hours, I was in love with her obsessiveness. I wanted to turn the pieces over and read the stats of the art history, the listing of colors and lines and values.
To really spend time with the show, to get back to drawing, a much slower medium than my smartphone, I sat and observed. So many pieces in the show were luscious and curvy and begged to be studied carefully, but I settled on these two for quick contour ink drawings: Sue Moss Sullivan’s Drenched, and Stephanie Grubbs’s Good Morning, Good Evening. The unrelenting repetition, the variation in thread texture, and the often subtle coloring on these pieces sparked my interest. It felt divine to drag the pen across the paper. It’s been much too long.
I tried my hand at a blind contour drawing of Heather Clark Hilliard’s Interrupted. I should have drawn at least three more blind contours. This is a drawing technique where you stare at the piece being drawn, but never look at your drawing as you make it, even in peripheral vision. It makes the direct connection between eye and hand, and takes away the Judge that often kills my work before it even starts. It’s loose, but takes concentration or you’ll lose your place, in which case you don’t look at your drawing, you just pick a spot and continue drawing. Hilliard’s piece was six-foot cut felt pieces tacked to the wall, hung heavily.
I want to return before it comes down. A dark, dreary winter is the perfect time to make drawings and revel in these fragile threads. Just like those individual threads create insanely strong pieces, these four fiber artists – Julie Marks Blackstone, Stephanie Grubbs, Heather Clark Hilliard, and Sue Moss Sullivan – come together to create a vast tapestry of talent, elegance and wonder.
This show is sponsored by Nancy G. Holland and Jim Stratton with additional financial assistance from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.
-submitted by Josie Mai, Associate Professor of Art