This is Real: Interior Margins at the Lumber Room

Interior Margins installation view | Midori Hirose, SQFT, 2010 | lumber room, Portland, OR | Photo Dan Kvitka

Interior Margins installation view | Midori Hirose, SQFT, 2010 | lumber room, Portland, OR | Photo Dan Kvitka


Abstraction is real. Probably more real than nature.
Joseph Albers

Part of being an artist is wanting to hold things down for a minute, make it real.
Lynne Woods Turner

What happened last Saturday? Three hours after it began, what was my take-away from the epic-length gallery talk at the Lumber Room (419 NW 9th), essentially eight mini artist talks in which most of the artists in the Lumber Room’s current exhibition, Interior Margins, answered a question (or statement) apiece from curator Stephanie Snyder?

Interior Margins, which runs through January 30, is a show of abstract work by women, all but one from the Northwest, and most from Portland. Of the responses by Heather Watkins, Blair Saxon-Hill, Judy Cooke, Midori Hirose, Michelle Ross, Lynne Woods Turner, Linda Hutchins, and Nell Warren, one can say that each was thoughtfully considered and illuminating about the artist’s practice and propensities. Lynne Woods Turner for example, emphasized her responsive nature (“as in gardening, things tell you what they want to do”). Few of the women addressed either the ideas behind the work or to put it another way, what was going on in the work. And I was hungry for that.

Whatever it was beyond process that Snyder was trying to get at in her questions, most of the conversation returned to process. So we now know that Warren’s little paintings are the result of her scraping used paint from her palette to create reliefs, that Watkins holds the paper and tilts it to guide the ink to make her drawings, and that Turner draws on the back as well as the front of the paper. There was a lot of this kind of thing about doing which may tell us something about abstraction, that there is a kind of sweet luxury in the doing beyond the thinking about the doing that is a sanctuary and a near-meditative practice. (I may be inscribing my own experience onto that of these artists…with your indulgence.)

Leonie Guyer, Victoria Haven, and Kristan Kennedy were absent, which is a shame especially because Kennedy’s “E.G.S.O.E.Y.S” (2011) is the piece de resistance of the show.

The most interesting moment was when the senior artist in the group, Judy Cooke, noted that the work she was seeing around her in the room—specifically the draped fabric works of Ross and to a lesser extent Kennedy and Saxon-Hill—takes her back to the ’70s, to women artists working at their kitchen tables, to incorporating everyday materials into their works. It was also great to hear about the thinking behind Saxon-Hill’s works, concrete-impregnated burlap draped on a white plinth leaned up against the wall…she’s been inspired by the photogravure documentation of  mid-century sculpture and interested in the draped backgrounds common at the time.

And Snyder gave Hirose the opportunity to answer those who would situate her colored sand-filled acrylic cubes in a Minimalist tradition, with Midori noting that certain polygons represent each element, the cube representing earth. She also framed her work as incorporating a childlike playfulness and of course spoke about the soft-meets-hard moment of the sand and the acrylic. Cooke talked about extracting a shape from a composition to make a shaped work. Turner talked about symmetry in her forms being the “path of least resistance,” with anything else being “too assertive.” Ross talked about moving away from the figure because she, “didn’t want to rely on the easy familiarity of the figure.” That her “intense engagement with material” is her response to “culture that is etherealized through technology.”

The printed piece we received in conjunction with the talk featured a number of quotes regarding abstraction and an excerpt from an essay Snyder had written for the exhibition “Abstract” she curated for the Cooley Gallery at Reed College (where she is John and Anne Hauberg Curator and Director, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery), which also featured artists Turner and Guyer. In that excerpt Snyder quotes Martin: “The line doesn’t have to describe anything. It focuses you, beyond it and beyond yourself.” And for line we could substitute any mark or field. Snyder writes, “Abstraction, commonly misunderstood as a reductive response to life, is in fact an intersecting embrace of the interconnectedness of all things.”

It’s a beautiful and powerful statement, and I think certainly in the case of work like that of Martin, that is appropriate. But this aspect of abstraction is only one of very many, and I’m not sure that the works in Interior Margins all can be housed under this notion. Though Linda Hutchins’ comment on one of the more important aspects of the series of drawings in the exhibition nearly was lost in the process talk, the idea of allowing the line’s imperfections (“natural undulations”) reminded me of this other aspect of abstraction, that of allowing, of abstraction opening up space for the viewer to co-create meaning in the work.

As much as I think these conversations may point to the productive (and conversely disjointed) space between the work and intention of the artist and the project of the curator, it’s a complication I appreciate,  this creation of a constellation of independent stars (both object and idea) with multiple possible links between them.

See this show. The installation of Watkins series of black on black drawings is stunning. And the trip up the stairs is worth it for the work of Saxon-Hill and Kennedy alone. Through January 30.

One Response.

  1. TJ Norris says:

    Thanks for the eloquent overview of the talk – I had to miss it while in the Bay Area, but you summed up some points well – there is a lot of room for the discussion of sheer practice that is rooted in its formalities – but yes, when it comes to abstraction, we all hunger for the magic of concept, and the passion behind the pretty things. Though, once a curator said to me “When you told me about the piece you unraveled the secret”. It took me aback to imagine someone wouldn’t want to know my motivation for creating a piece. But in time that thought settled, and made half sense. So, in many ways staying mum seems a norm of sorts. Great piece!

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