Philadelphia Art Alliance Blog


Asimina Chremos: Not Your Grandmother’s Doilies

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Boise Doily. 100% cotton (commercially dyed), blocked and starched. 2014. Courtesy of artist’s website.

HomeWork, guest curated by Alex Stadler, explores the themes of femininity, domesticity, and textile-based craft through the idiosyncratic work of two contemporary Philadelphia-based artists, Erin Endicott and Asimina Chremos. Chremos is an unconventional combination of dancer and crochet artist. She uses both these art forms to experiment with improvisation and free-flowing movement, be it of bodies or of thread. Chremos uses a traditional craft in non-traditional ways, eschewing patterns and predictability to create doilies unlike any you have ever seen.

Chremos learned to crochet from her two grandmothers, one Greek and the other American. Her use of this traditional technique evokes the generations of women whose textile crafts have long been excluded from the rarefied world of Art. Originally a private dwelling and now a public institution dedicated to the display of contemporary craft and design, the Art Alliance is both a domestic interior and an exhibition space, making it a particularly evocative venue for Chremos’ work.

Chremos plays with asymmetry and color, the forms of her work arising from the process of making rather than from a predetermined pattern. Her crocheted doilies call to mind the slowly shifting forms of clouds or the changing colors of the evening sky. These organic forms are the result of the improvisational nature of Chremos’ creative process. They are material traces of the movement of Chremos’ hands, as well as impermanent traces of the movements of the artist’s mind.

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Images, from top: Prismatic, crochet doily photographed by AC; Asimina Chremos in solo performace at the Museum of Contemparary Art, Chicago, photographed by Ruth Lopez.

This sense of transience and flowing movement that we find in Chremos’ crochet work is also evident in her work as a dancer, which is likewise grounded in a spirit of improvisation. Chremos has collaborated with musicians who improvise as she dances, creating a synthesis of music and movement that is transient, impermanent and ever-shifting. A spirit of play–what she has referred to as the mischievous “imp” in impermanence–infuses her work, seeking to inspire those most fleeting of feelings, joy and delight. Color, movement, and craft all come together in the work of Asimina Chremos, her doilies creating a joyful dance of thread that is sure to delight viewers.

HomeWork will be on view at the Art Alliance from December 10, 2015, until January 3, 2016. Gallery hours are 12PM – 7PM Tuesday through Sunday, closed to the public on Mondays.

Text by Flora Ward, Intern.

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Erin Endicott: Healing through Stitches

Contemporary textile artist Erin Endicott considers her works a type of drawing, one through which she can best express herself. Walnut ink stains vintage fabric as red, white and brown threads are woven into the cloth. She engages with her works on a psychological level as well. For Endicott, the process-oriented medium she works in is indeed a healing process.

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J.L.L. 1885-1920. Drawing, hand stitching, walnut ink on antique fabric. Courtesy of Artist’s website.

Through her works, Endicott heals her wounds by bringing them to light in visceral forms. She uses vintage fabric passed down by women in her family. Symbolically, her personal history is woven in the fabric that serves as the basis for the following work she performs. She stains the fabric with walnut ink. The ink’s natural flow shapes and tones the “wounds” that the stains represent. Working with this method, Endicott relinquishes control over the outcome of this staining process and trusts the ink’s organic flow completely. She then stitches over the stained fabric, often in red, white and brown threads. Healing comes through this meditative stitching process for the artist, stitch after stitch, hour after hour.

Besides the healing magic in the creation process, Endicott’s works are packed with symbolism of the marks she leaves on the fabric. Growing up in the scenic city Port Republic, New Jersey, the artist often draws her inspiration from the nature. Patterns of veins and roots, as well as shapes of cells and seeds are common themes throughout her works. The various clothing pieces she chooses to work on also serve as a metaphor for one’s skin, conveying a strong sense of intimacy.

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Healing Sutra #11 (Detail). Hand embroidery on antique baby bib stained with walnut ink, beads. Courtesy of Artist’s website

 

Born in a family of textile artists, Endicott developed her penchant for this medium quite naturally. She studied textile design in Scotland and received her BFA in textile design at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. A long-time art teacher, Endicott recently decided to pursue her art career full-time. Her works have been exhibited at museums, galleries and other art organizations worldwide.

From December 10 to January 3, Endicott’s newest works will be exhibited at the Philadelphia Art Alliance along with Asimina Chremos’ crochet works in the HomeWork exhibition, guest curated by Alex Stadler. Weaving improvisation into their creation process, these two artists deviate from fiber art’s historical association with domesticity and femininity as suggested by the exhibition title.

 

Text by Qianni Zhu, Intern


Sleepers in the Borderlands

The fruit of an unusual collaboration between visual artist Marta Sánchez and poet Norma Cantú, Transcendental Train Yard is a series of serigraph prints that create a verbal and visual landscape of dreams and memories. Their work occupies borderlands both literal and figurative, between the nations and languages, between the past and the present, between sleeping and waking experience. Sánchez was born in San Antonio, Texas, and is now based in Philadelphia, while Cantú, now based in Kansas City, Missouri, was born in Mexico and raised just across the border in Laredo, Texas. In the process of their long-distance collaboration, these two artists discovered the many resonances in their shared background that come through in the dream-like words and images of these prints.

Marta Sánchez, Loneliness/Soledad, 2004

Marta Sánchez, Loneliness/Soledad, 2004

Sánchez has long been fascinated by the train yards near her childhood home in Texas, which were so integral to the local landscape and to her own family history. It was the trains that brought her grandfather, a lion tamer from a circus in Mexico City, to San Antonio, where he met Sánchez’s grandmother. Cantú’s grandfather worked for the railway in San Antonio before the family moved to Mexico. These two artists have moved on parallel tracks, their lives and the lives of their family members crossing borders back and forth to forge a mestizo identity, a rich mixture of cultures and languages.

Eight of the ten prints published in the book Transcendental Train Yard are on view on the third floor in the Shanis Programming Space at the Art Alliance from October 25 until November 4. The suite begins with Soledad/Loneliness, which depicts the distinctive landscape of the train yard as seen through a shifting veil of memory and loss, and framed by the body of a woman whose grieving face hovers above the scene like a sorrowful moon as she embraces the figure of an elderly man. Sánchez’s print responds to the loss of her father, and Cantú’s poem was completed soon after her own father’s passing. The print evokes a shared grief that plays out across the landscape of the train yard, uniting the two women’s experiences and emotions across the distance that separates them.

Marta Sánchez, Prelude/Preludio, 2003

Marta Sánchez, Prelude/Preludio, 2003

In the pages of the book, these themes are laid out for the viewer in the first print, entitled Prelude/Preludio. A recumbent figure stretches across the composition, with train cars visible in the background as if through a window. It is not clear if he is dead or merely sleeping. The poem speaks of the “fiery gold crown sunset” and the moonlit arrival of trains, but also evokes a struggle between life and death. As Constance Cortez points out, Sánchez’s print recalls Frida Kahlo’s 1937 work, The Deceased Little Dimas, an uncanny painting depicting the body of a deceased child, dressed in a long robe and crown, surrounded by flowers. Rather than looking directly down on the figure with a detached, almost scientific perspective, as we do in Kahlo’s painting, Sánchez shifts the position of the body so that the viewer feels as though she is alongside the boy. Prayer cards with what appears to be the abstracted form of the Virgin Mary surround his bed, watching over him. Strong horizontal lines run along the length of his body, converging on the figure’s head, like the rail tracks of a dream landscape. In this borderland between sleep and wakefulness, between life and death, the train tracks and the rail yard evoke distant places and domestic intimacy, the journey and the arrival. The work of Sánchez and Cantú transforms the heroic landscape of the West, criss-crossed by train tracks and populated by men and machines that are constantly on the move, into a vast and mysterious interior landscape of shared memory and experience.

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A limited number of signed copies of the book, Transcendental Train Yard: A Collaborative Suite of Serigraphs, art by Marta Sánchez and poetry by Norma E. Cantú (San Antonio: Wings Press, 2015) are available for purchase at the Art Alliance.

Text by Flora Ward, Intern


Adela Akers + Lewis Knauss: Veils and Screens

Material Legacy showcases a diverse range of media, including fiber, glass, and clay, from artists who are well established and highly esteemed in the Philadelphia area. In this post, we consider the relationship between two of these artists, Adela Akers and Lewis Knauss, by focusing on a handful of works currently on view at the Art Alliance. Adela Akers’ The Grid (2008) and Gold Inside (2008) resonate with four pieces from Lewis Knauss’ series, Sitting with Deborah, including Bayview (2012), Calm (2012), Glisten Clear (2013), and Still Fog (2014). These works ask us to slow down, look closely, and listen attentively. The horsehair in Akers’ weavings whispers to viewers, while the dense thickets of knotted fiber in Knauss’ work absorb sound, drawing the viewer into an interior landscape. The mysteries of memory and vision, the transience of place and time–these are some of the themes explored in the work of these two artists.

Adela Akers, The Grid (2008)

Adela Akers, The Grid (2008)

Adela Akers, Gold Inside (2008)

Adela Akers, Gold Inside (2008)

I focus on a series of pieces by Akers and Knauss that take the familiar if abstracted geometrical form of the window, drawing a veil or a screen over it with horsehair and bamboo. Akers’ 2008 works, The Grid and Gold Inside, share a similar palette of warm reds, standing out among the other pieces on the gallery walls. Looking more closely, we see that these two weavings are reversed mirror images of one another. The Grid uses a rhythmic pattern of gold foil wrappers to create a frame around an empty central square, while Gold Inside places these metallic foil fragments within the central square. The distinction between interior and exterior space, between subject and frame, is blurred, and the viewer is not sure if she is inside looking out, or outside looking in. In a 2008 oral history interview with the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian, Akers spoke about this quality of mystery, saying “there is something intriguing to me and mysterious about an opening, not because of what’s around it but what’s inside that I don’t see, that I don’t know; it’s the unknown.” The Grid and Gold Inside confront viewers with the unknown, drawing them into the mystery through a fine veil of horsehair and linen.

Lewis Knauss, Bayview (2012)

Lewis Knauss, Bayview (2012)

Lewis Knauss, Calm (2012)

Lewis Knauss, Calm (2012)

Lewis Knauss, Glisten Clear (2013)

Lewis Knauss, Glisten Clear (2013)

Lewis Knauss, Still Fog (2014)

Lewis Knauss, Still Fog (2014)

Upstairs on the second floor, situated like a gentle punctuation between the dynamic forms of Warren Seelig’s sculpture and the colorful drama of Judith Schaechter’s stained glass, is the work of Lewis Knauss. Four pieces from the series Sitting with Deborah stand out for their horizontal composition and relatively shallow projection from the wall. Instead of the dense thickets of fiber that surround them, Bayview (2012), Calm (2012), Glisten Clear (2013), and Still Fog (2014) appear like screens drawn between the viewer and an imaginary landscape on the other side, tantalizingly out of view. Like Akers’ pair of warm-hued weavings, these four pieces by Knauss form two pairs whose composition and coloring echo one another. Bayview and Glisten Clear are painted with metallic colors that subtly reflect light, while the bamboo weft of Calm and Still Fog look almost like window shades with their dense horizontal slats. In his artist statement for Snyderman-Works Galleries, Knauss has stated that he uses textile as a “medium to explore [his] memories of place,” while his meticulous artistic process evokes the patient looking required to truly be present in the landscape. Knauss offers this meditative experience of place to his viewers, drawing us in the textured surfaces that seem to suggest a landscape visible only in the mind’s eye.

Given the subtle visual resonance among these pieces, it comes as no surprise that the artists themselves have worked together. Lewis Knauss was among Adela Akers’ first students at the Tyler School of Art, where she taught from 1972 until 1995. Knauss received his MFA from Tyler in 1973, and taught at Moore College from 1982 until 2010. Both artists have strong ties to the Philadelphia area and have left a lasting legacy as teachers and active participants in the craft community. The exhibition at the Art Alliance represents a unique opportunity to see the work of these masters of fiber in dialogue, and in a larger artistic conversation that spans diverse media.

Text by Flora Ward, Intern


Parlor Shop Artist Profile: Devin McNutt from Saffron Designs

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Saffron DesignsSaffron Creations is a line of exquisite art deco style jewelry from Devin McNutt, a local Philadelphia jeweler. Devin handcrafts her jewelry in a rather unusual way, which gives all of her works a fascinating story…

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Saffron DesignsThese beautiful trinkets are vintage with a twist: Each piece is handcrafted from vintage cookie, biscuit and tea tins! That’s right – these designs really are vintage, but have been lovingly re-purposed into stunning, fresh pieces of jewelry.

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Saffron DesignsDevin cuts out the tin pieces, rivets and stamps them, wraps wire and also attaches semi-precious stones. That means that each of these items is a unique work of art. No one piece is quite like another, and each work of art is like a little piece of history.

The Parlor Shop is open regularly Thursdays through Sundays, 12-5pm. The Parlor Shop is run by volunteers, and profits from sales go back to local artists and craftspeople, with a portion going to the Philadelphia Art Alliance’s fundraising efforts.


LTextile: Lithuania comes to Philadelphia

Lithuania’s population may be smaller than the population of the Philadelphia Metropolitan area (3.2million compared with Philly Metro’s 5.9million) but very soon it’s taking a crucial place under the spotlight of the world stage.

On June 1st Lithuania takes over the EU’s rotating Presidency… but more importantly, it’s taken over the second floor at the Philadelphia Art Alliance! Last week was our opening for LTextile, an exhibition of modern Lithuanian textile pieces created by eight contemporary artists from this Baltic Sea nation.

Philadelphia Lithuania textile exhibition

L Textile Exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance

And the pieces are stunning, if we may say so ourselves. They’re vibrant, whimsical, incredibly intricate, and give us a glimpse of Lithuania’s history and culture: From embroidered milk pails and governmental forms doodled with fine tapestry, to a fully felted dinner feast. But please don’t just take our word for it: The exhibition is open Tuesday – Sunday from now until August 18th.

Lithuanian Textiles

Vita Geluniene with Birutė Letukaitė and Evaldas Jansas, “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” Gobelin-style Tapestry, 2010-11


PAA Press Round-up: Where we’ve been on the web

Where have you read about the Art Alliance this week?

Where have you read about the Art Alliance this week?

The past few weeks have been all a buzz with excitement, so here’s a whirlwind look at some of our latest press coverage.

Philly Mag’s Hugh E Dillon photographed some of the esteemed guests at our fabulous fundraiser, Spring at the Mansion, last week, as did Glamorosi – be sure to check them out. Shannon Rooney, also from Philly Mag, outlined some of the renovation projects we hope to embark on from our fundraising efforts.

Recently the New York Post boldly declared that Philadelphia is for art lovers, we agree of course! They also stated:

Rittenhouse Square’s Philadelphia Art Alliance presents a world premiere — and totally genius — exhibition, “Emily Spivack: Sentimental Value,” in which the artist displays items she won on eBay with their intriguing backstories and sellers’ anecdotes (251 S. 18th St., philartalliance.org).

In April, Rittenhouse Park itself became a permanent, interactive installation via the 99-cent iPhone app “The Empty Air,” which uses GPS to trigger musician Michael Kiley’s textured sound designs and an original song.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Spivack  about her forthcoming exhibition, which they describe as:

…a treasure trove of sartorial history, personality and heartfelt writing. And in May, a collection of garments that she’s purchased will be exhibited in her first solo show at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.

The exhibition and website and website are organized so that the eBay sellers’ original descriptions are displayed alongside the articles of clothing, recreating the experience of finding them online (read the full interview here).

There’s been some great anticipation for our new Summer exhibitions which open next week, and we can’t wait to unveil them!