by Barbara Morris
One might be hard pressed, initially, to find similarities in the work of an installation artist who creates wall-mounted objects of fiber and industrial materials, and that of an artist whose practice is grounded in the traditional medium of still life drawing with pencil. Yet the current offering at Oakland's Chandra Cerrito Contemporary featuring the work of Sheila Ghidini, In-between Spaces, and Sabine Reckewell, Composites, yields a surprisingly satisfying relationship. As you discover the underlying importance of geometry and the force of gravity to the structure of both artists' work, you can almost see the rulers and the plumb lines present in the minds, if not the hands, of the two artists as they work.
Ghidini is the standout of the pair in this circumstance, with a startling departure from earlier works that mined the territory of representational drawing for a sensitive, somewhat pathos-infused effect, employing elements such as bird's nests or tree branches as foils for drawings of owls or other birds on gallery walls. Her connection to natural objects, concern for animals and the environment, and clear love of the process of drawing previously combined in appealing vignettes that at times leaned toward sentimentality. Few wistful emotions linger in this new body of ambitious, formally oriented works on paper and mylar.
The artist presents seven medium-scale works and one grid comprised of twelve small (10” x 10”) works. Ghidini has long had a passion for meticulously observed renderings, and when not depicting natural objects she has often employed chairs as subject matter. While distinct, and with their own emotional weight, the chairs have always remained inanimate objects, resisting anthropomorphization. In a large departure, these new works on paper and mylar now feature complex, densely layered dimensional objects within mysterious invented spaces, evoking both Cubism and the convoluted spaces of M.C. Escher.
Boundaries, graphite on paper with beeswax, feels like an entry point into this unsettled visual world. It shows a two-story house, presented at an angle and from an aerial perspective. The roof and front walls are transparent, so that we see carefully ruled floorboards and stairways leading to a long ladder protruding from the roof. Observation suggests a magnified and fleshed-out exploration of that same stairwell. Once again, transparent walls allow the viewer a peek inside, an open doorway allowing a stream of light to enter an otherwise darkened lower space.
Group, in graphite on mylar, pulls us into a more straightforward representational realm, yet one where an oddly precipitous visual field is enlivened by dramatic tonal contrasts and a quivering sense of expectation. It depicts regularly aligned rows of chairs: square seats and rectangular slats supported by blocky legs. The cast shadows create a compelling tension, between the desire to see a world where natural laws of light and physics apply, and the simultaneous denial of that longing. The effect registered is almost accusatory, as though the chairs might house a mute and invisible jury.
Family Tree, a long, vertical drawing with stitching, delineates another kind of invented space, recalling the balancing game Jenga, with chairs pointing in all directions. Four other visually complex works can be found in the rear of the gallery. In each of these, the stacking of objects becomes even more dimensional. Sanctuary, graphite on three pieces of layered mylar, shows a jumble of chairs dissolving into a chaotic mass of geometric bits and pieces, rectangles, planes, triangles and arcs, some visible directly, others emerging through the filter of layers. Other works that cram the page with dizzying displays of tour de force drawing include A place of rest in the middle of things. It explodes the chair form into legs, seats and backs divorced from their compliments and suspended at unexpected angles, with dark negative spaces pulling the eye inward.
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Reckewell, originally from Germany and now residing in Napa after several decades in New York, has long pursued a highly conceptual approach to textile installation, using either straight lines created by stretching nylon cord tight between pairs of nails, or allowing gravity to create curving shapes as the cord droops. Her stunning, room-sized immersive installations employ twisting and convoluted planes created through masterful feats of engineering, reminiscent of the work of LA-based Pae White. Here in Composities, the artist presents, for the first time, works that combine straight and curved lines, wall-sized, as before, but here barely edging away from its surface. While engaging on their own terms, these works hone more closely to design, reflecting, perhaps, Reckewell's early foundation at a Bauhaus-based industrial design program in Kassel. They also, just as clearly, reveal roots in Constructivism and the works of Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy.
Composite #6 combines linear strands of nylon cord wrapped around nails and looped back, forming flat geometric shapes comprised of regularly spaced lines, at times parallel, at other times converging to suggest a vanishing point. They form a backdrop for looping bands of colorful nylon webbing tethered against the wall, flat at the end, splaying open perpendicular to the wall they nears the nadir of the curve. The silver and blue shapes, one a parallelogram, the other a trapezoid, crisscross in the center to form an “x” shape, the arc of the royal blue webbing dipping gracefully below the crossing. You could read this as a conversation between
the organic and the man-made, with the linear elements suggesting roads or walkways, the curving blue parts water. Yet in other works, like Composite #5, the curve is an industrial orange color, refuting any reference to nature, and instead calling to mind suspension bridges. That the ends of the trapezoidal forms are flattened, without actually converging at what would hypothetically constitute a horizon line, may contribute to the feeling of confinement oddly present in these meticulously crafted works. While Ghidini's flipping back and forth between two and three dimensions has a flickering quality that sustains interest, Reckewell’s suggestion, of illusionistic perspective and its immediate denial, here feels obdurate.
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Sheila Ghidini “In-between Spaces” and Sabine Reckewell “Composites” @ Chandra Cerrito Contemporary through March 15, 2018.
About the author:
Barbara Morris is a Bay Area-based writer and artist. She has been a regular contributor to Artillery and art ltd. magazines for the past seven years, and previously wrote for Artweek magazine for ten years, seven of them as a contributing editor. Her writing has appeared in WEAD magazine, stretcher.org, and Artist's Dialogue, as well as numerous other publications. Morris holds an MFA from UC Berkeley.