‘Material | Fiber’ Brings Nontraditional Art into Focus in New Exhibit

“I Need Some Time To Find Myself” by Heather Jones is one piece in UD’s Radial Gallery. Cover photo taken by Melody Conrad 

Melody Conrad 
Arts & Entertainment Editor

This article was written before the suspension of in-person classes and closure of housing for most students due to the coronavirus. A podcast about the exhibit will be available on our website soon. 

In a material world, artists at Radial Gallery’s “Material | Fiber” exhibit are seeking to redefine the notion of fiber and how we understand composition both on a literal and a metaphorical level. While the medium may change, the question stays the same: How do we use the everyday parts of our world to reveal a greater understanding of life?

Radial Gallery, located on the second floor of Fitz Hall, invites viewers into a simple structure that works to highlight artist creations effectively. The walls are whitewashed, with pieces displayed primarily at eye level. To the right, three simple canvases hang in a linear fashion amid other works.

“I Need Some Time To Find Myself” by Heather Jones

Each canvas features an orange square in the middle, but the surrounding color is different. Rose pink, soft berry, lilac.

With each progressive canvas, the squares seemed to morph hues, playing with the eye. Is the middle square turmeric? Merigold?

Heather Jones, Cincinnati native and creator of the work, described this abstract piece titled “I Need Some Time To Find Myself.”

“I’m mostly interested in color and how color works with other colors- how they influence each other, how they are affected by what color is placed next to that. For that piece in particular, I was really interested in the orange that’s in the center and how it relates to the different colors that are surrounding it.”

The colors, composed of fabric, stretched taut against the canvases, a trilogy of gradual change. While Jones uses a quilting method for her work, she chooses to define her creation as something different.

 “I was using solid color fabric so I was working with geometric shapes and pure areas of color, and this body of work came to be these paintings that I consider paintings even though they’re made out of fabric. I wanted to make paintings like I was making quilts.”

 “I Need Some Time To Find Myself” is a piece with greater depth than fabric on a canvas, and Jones draws on her foremothers as a vital part of the message to the audience.

“My work deals with the history of women and textiles, and I’m really influenced by American patchwork and quilting. Many quilts were made by unknown women and I’ve always been interested in those. My work certainly refers to those and that lineage of the works that came before mine. The overall theme of my work is the history of textiles and really the role of the woman in society- in the past as well as today- so each work is a nod to those that came before me.”

For local artist Colleen Kelsey, women also played a vital role in her art. Her piece, titled “Wife and Husband Two Headed Idol Figure” explores ways to liberate women by accepting and transforming the traditionally feminine field of textiles.

“Wife and Husband Two Headed Idol Figure” by Colleen Kelsey

 “I’m very conscious that stitching is traditionally a woman’s art form, and that women were studied in embroidery and it was part of their education [which leads to] this idea of high art versus low art. You see it more and more in women makers where they’ve embraced this idea of working with thread and fabric.”

 “Two Headed Idol Figure,” a combination of sewn material and drawing, features two realistic male and female busts on a nontraditional orange body. A honeycomb design crisscrosses the bodice.

“The very basic nature of what it’s made is fiber, fabrics, and the essence of what is it is fiber, and the fact that the orange fabric came from a tablecloth, it’s seen as a very feminine object decorating the table in the home and the home life, and then this is the fabric that makes the figures’ bodies. And I did take canvas, which is a traditional painting material, and drew on it with conte – traditional art materials – and charcoal, but then I stitched and cut and sewed it to this tablecloth fabric body. It’s a marriage of two worlds as far as how I’m treating materials.”

 This union goes beyond material, though, and Kelsey discussed how the work spoke to the relationship with her husband.

In the piece, Kelsey’s silhouette faces away from her husband, as though they’re looking to go in different directions but tied together by the honeycomb threads and the tablecloth body.

“The thing that I love about ‘Husband and Wife’ is they share the same body but they seem to be wanting to go different directions, and that’s the tension of any relationship that human beings find themselves in.”

This tension shows itself in the relationship between the people and the art as well, and Kelsey described her interest in encroaching on the viewer and going beyond the invisible barrier separating art and audience.

“The heads are close to life size proportions, they may be a touch smaller, but the piece is on the bottom quarter of a wall. It’s not high in the middle – normally when you hang art, you see it in the middle at 5 feet 4 inches – so it’s very untraditional how it’s hung because it’s low, it’s near ground, and it creeps on to the floor. It activates our space, and I love that play of something that comes into our space and breaks that white wall purity idea.”

While Kelsey’s work seeks to reach the viewer through spatial awareness, exhibitor Taylor Orr, University of Dayton alumna, developed two pedestal pieces that ask the audience to consider their actions towards animals through embellished remnants.

“Sheepskin” by Taylor Orr

“The first one is a sheepskin pelt, and I’ve embellished specific areas with glass beads and nylon thread. I was referencing rain rot, which is different wounds that animals get on their skin, so I was using beads to adorn those spaces on the skin. The other piece I have is titled ‘Raccoon’ and it’s a raccoon pelt where I’ve embellished the area of a bullet hole and there’s a skull that accompanies the piece and it has an actual bullet hole from where the animal was shot. I was referencing the space of the bullet hole when I was sewing the beads on to the raccoon.”

“Raccoon” by Taylor Orr

To Orr, consumerism and human domination have exploited animal lives, and she seeks to bring light to these issues in a way that is aesthetic and poignant. To show this, she uses locally sourced beads because of their capacity to capture and reflect light.

 “I choose really visceral colored pieces intentionally to reference wounds and to make the viewer think about those wounds in relation to their own body and bring them back to themselves when they’re viewing my work. We as humans feel this need to have control over animals and treat them as a commodity. With this body of work, I’m really trying to put value back into the animal that’s discarded or seen as unvaluable [sic] or unwanted.”

Whether referencing women’s or animals’ rights, “Material | Fiber” calls attention to the way we understand the world in a new and innovative way.

Through nontraditional art, these artists, along with the rest of the exhibitioners, focus in on the fiber of our existence, weaving together the pieces in a way that makes viewers step back and contemplate reality.

It’s a lofty task, but this group of artists accepted the challenge, pushing back and fighting the grain. 

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