Spontaneous Order

Posted on 11 May 2012

"#571" by Tory Cowles, 48" x 48," mixed media.

"#571" by Tory Cowles, 48" x 48," mixed media.

By Joan Baum

Though it’s serendipitous that Tory Cowles and Ruby Jackson will soon share space at the Romany Kramoris Gallery, their separately striking, colorful dimensional pieces seen together will generate a surprising – and, because unexpected – delightful harmony, which Romany Kramoris no doubt intuited. Cowles’ joyous mixed media “Abstractions: Paintings” and Jackson’s playful “Suspended Animations” complement one another while also evincing similarities. A third artist, Annemarie Feld, is represented in the show as Cowles’ collaborator in fashioning stunning, one-of-a-kind wearable art – in this case, handbags, made by stitching together odd pieces of soft leather hand painted by Cowles, and adding appliqués of fabric and organic fibers. The result?  Real handbags, complete with stained bristle brush handles. Seeing is believing, and even then . . . .

Both Jackson and Cowles, well along in their artistic careers, seem to be moving in experimental directions that evolve from earlier work – taking abstract forms and color designs they typically explored in textured two-dimensional work and reconfiguring them in three-dimensions. Another connection between the women has to do with the kind of confidence that encourages risk taking. Though both Cowles and Jackson celebrate “spontaneity” as part of their artistic process, the order that informs their compositions comes from years of experience.

Cowles, who hails from Alexandria, Virginia and exhibits at the innovative Torpedo Gallery Art Center, and Feld who also shows there, make quite a team, but Cowles might easily claim that her involvement with three-dimensional work — seen particularly in her smaller, sculptured “bas reliefs” — is something of a coming home. She started out, professionally, doing three-dimensional work — stonewall building, woodworking, architecture, interior design, carpentry. She was also painting representational landscapes and portraits. Then she went abstract, incorporating into her paintings swaths of free-form bold color, sometimes juxtaposing pulsing color zones with more neutral-tone areas, some containing simulations of writing, and dots and drips and confetti loops.

Recognizable objects are suggested by way of painted ribbon streaks that seem to contour the partial outlines of, say, a table, curtain, chair, pillow, items in a room. Up close, the paintings reveal low-gloss layered effects — bumps that bubble out from the canvas, sections of recessed crosshatching, fragments of cloth and corrugated cardboard affixed under paint, clogs of pigment. Cowles’ former professional life is also on impressive display in the smaller works of more subtle hue — cleanly defined mixed media geometric designs that, along with some of the paintings, recall for Romany Kramoris the “dancing” forms of Kandinsky, Klee and Miro.

If one word were to describe Cowles larger canvases, it might be “energy”; in a phrase, “perfect compositions,” achieved mainly through distribution of color. Arguably, red seems to determine the color-field organization, even where — or is that especially because? — in some works red makes a slight but judiciously placed appearance. Try blocking out red in the cooler, blue-suffused paintings, and see what happens. Hint: texture and line rule. And when red is concentrated in a mass? A dramatic tension is put in play, as in mixed media #628, between the solid colors on the canvas and between these and the fabric patterns. And when red is widely distributed, as in mixed media #512? A kind of patchwork design emerges, or something decoratively similar. Cowles might also lay claim to being a savvy user of black. Set near sections of intricate contrasting detail — a row of small dots, a clutch of thin parallel lines — black planes take on an enriched hue, background becoming foreground.

Jackson, who lives in Sag Harbor and works as an assistant to the director of Pollock Krasner House, is an avid snorkeler, a love that has surfaced in the sparkly mixed-media, underwater-themed painting-collages she’s been doing for years. Now, with “Suspended Animations,” delicate, airy mobiles made out of hardened glitter glue, and consisting of from three to seven brilliantly colored hanging “elements,” she has turned her abstract sea representations into flexible free-form designs that also hint slyly at another former love — trapeze flying. The elements of the mobiles, she says, are “in flight.” The immediate attraction of “Suspended Animations,” however, is luminous color. Some elements are crafted as variations on a shade — crimson, pink, lilac, cherry, plum, purple, ruby [!]; others slowly spin in a full shiny palette.

The recent move to three dimensions also reflects Jackson’s earlier artistic life as a sculptor, but with a “twist” — literally. Instead of the viewer walking around a stand-alone object, she points out that the objects in “Suspended Animations” themselves move around and thus must be shaped to engage from any perspective. Constructing them also presented the challenge of considering how light and motion might affect the color, form and structure — of each element, of each mobile and of the mobiles as a group installation, were they to have such room for display. Where the individual lacy elements are almost aligned horizontally (when seen at eye level), one element may temporarily eclipse part of another, creating an ever-changing view, the way the sea moves and things of the sea glide and are pushed by currents. The sea is also suggested by the netlike quality of the elements, some feathery thin, others curved to floral and coral effect. The complexity of Jackson’s new designs is seen not only in the way the elements are molded and cut, but in the way they hang. The colorful filigree-looking elements drop not directly from translucent plastic threads but are suspended from translucent overarching amoeba shapes or circular bands — a practical matter turned to aesthetic advantage.

Between Tory Cowles’ “Abstractions: Paintings” and Ruby Jackson’s “Suspended  Animations” visitors will be hard pressed not to touch their way — carefully — around the gallery.

The Romany Kramoris Gallery is at 41 Main Street, Sag Harbor. 725-2499. The show runs from May 18 to June 7. Opening reception: Saturday, May 19. 5 – 7 p.m. The handbags will remain in the gallery throughout the summer.

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