Four female artists draw inspiration from the natural world for Redux exhibit 

Second Nature

Jane Ann Sweeny works with the grain when she cuts block prints from pine

Provided

Jane Ann Sweeny works with the grain when she cuts block prints from pine

It's been 12 years since an unassuming cinder block building tucked off a sleepy section of St. Philip Street was brightly painted with the giant letters REDUX and transformed into an artistic hotbed. At its inception, Redux Contemporary Art Center was an ambitiously cool concept — a collection of artist studios with a central exhibition space and workshops open to the public. But was it ahead of its time? Too avant-garde for a city whose art galleries sell marshscapes by the dozens? Would it survive?

The answer for the latter is yes. Redux is relevant. Radically relevant. Its panel of advisors sifts through scads of proposals from talented artists across the country to select thoughtful, edgy, often provocative work, pushing Charleston's artistic boundaries a little further. The application process is rigorous. It is a serious honor to land a show on these walls.

Every other year, Redux takes a break from the national talent pool to cull from within, celebrating the work of its own studio artists. In years past, this took the form of a group show, an often discombobulated hodgepodge of media with no central theme. This year, Redux takes a new approach.

For its upcoming show Reorientation, executive director Stacy Huggins invited proposals from local Redux artists and reviewed them herself, looking for threads and visions that might complement one another. She whittled her choice down to four artists, all women, all working with different materials, whose images struck her as organic or inspired by the natural world.

"These artists really stepped up," says Huggins. "Their bodies of work are impressive. They're all super talented, very committed to their art forms. None of them collaborated when submitting their proposals, yet their work meshes well."

Kaminer Haislip: Silversmithing

Stop by Redux almost any day of the week, and you'll hear strange sounds coming from a corner studio — whizzing, pounding, cutting, grinding, the steady roar of a blowtorch. Peek your head through the curtains and you'll see a sylph-like young woman with pale skin wearing green tennis shoes she calls her "grubbies," hunched over her jeweler's bench, hard at work.

click to enlarge Kaminer Haislip creates stark contrasts and sharp geometry in her silversmithing - PROVIDED
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  • Kaminer Haislip creates stark contrasts and sharp geometry in her silversmithing

A silversmith, her name is Kaminer Haislip, and since joining Redux in 2005 she has made a name for herself with her sleek, contemporary vessels. For Reorientation, Haislip submits five works from her "Learning to Fly" series.

Inspired by some photos she took on a flight up the coast, Haislip etches the clouds into metal, paints them with a tar-like substance called black resist, then submerges the silver in nitric acid, which eats away at the recessed silver to give the pattern depth. The result is powerful: a stark contrast between the crisp geometry of the polished silver vessel and the ethereal, transient, organic feel of the clouds.

Chloe Gilstrap: Photography

Photographer Chloe Gilstrap took time away from the dark room to head west, camera in hand. And not just any camera: She secured an old Polaroid "Land camera" (or instant camera), then determined to experiment with expired film. Gilstrap hoped that the expired film might yield interesting colors, effects, even "happy accidents" that could benefit her art.

She drove up the California coast with a friend headed to Washington state. Strangers marveled at her vintage camera with extendable bellows as she captured images in nature, peeling the negatives off the prints again and again until she got the shots she wanted, then storing them in a petite travel box.

"There was immediate gratification," says Gilstrap. "And immediate disappointment." Sometimes the emulsion didn't spread evenly, creating patterns of imperfection across the matte finish that Gilstrap embraced as part of the composition. The result is haunting: slightly faded, warm images, some with blackened edge bleeds where the light found its way through the hood or lens. Cliffs on the Big Sur, an empty beach, a glimpse of someone's shoulder in a hotel room, pine trees flying by, the reflection on a lake, smoke rising from a wildfire as ashes float down — momentary impressions captured as art.

Jane Ann Sweeny: Woodblock Printing

Jane Ann Sweeny takes her cues from the grain of thick panels of white pine shelving. A tree's signature rings and knots, formed over time, become road maps full of expressive potential.

Using a process called reduction printing, Sweeny decides whether to heighten the wood grain pattern with a wire brush technique or whether to carve it away to create relief. She builds her prints in colored layers.

"You have to think backwards," laughs Sweeny, who carries her woodworking tools in a little lunch box wherever she goes, so she can work on the fly in between 12-hour shifts as an operating room nurse. "As you build up the layers of color and pattern on the print, you are actually whittling down the wood itself. I've gotten so used to thinking backwards, I don't even know how I think forwards anymore," she says.

Raised wood grain becomes flame licking a female figure or interwoven hands or the tangled architecture of a tree's organic root system. Sweeny likens her process to "working with God in Nature" because the wood's natural grain both inspires and surprises her, yielding both intended and unintended effects.

"It's amazing how people see different things in the grain," she says. "I'd like to be a fly on the wall at the show to listen to their reactions."

Kate MacNeil: Etchings

MacNeil's small studio abuts the printmaking wing of Redux. Its centerpiece is the large metal wheel of a press bed topped with massive cylinder rollers. On her walls are various runs of etchings, some successes and others in the process of being "painted over" (she calls that "problem solving," as Jasper Johns is wont to do). MacNeil sometimes gets flack for straddling the two mediums, but points out that "all great painters were printmakers, too."

click to enlarge "Death Creeps" builds on Kate MacNeil's theme of dying flowers - PROVIDED
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  • "Death Creeps" builds on Kate MacNeil's theme of dying flowers

Dried or wilted flowers are often MacNeil's subject matter, or, as she puts it, "memories left behind." For Reorientation, MacNeil captures a dandelion in the stages of wilting. She draws on a metal plate (zinc in this case) with a fine needle using nitric acid to create incisions where the ink can settle, then runs the plate through the press to transfer the image to thick paper. The resulting image is nuanced, refined, delicate — the captured ephemeral beauty of a life in passing.

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