The Weyrich Gallery is hosting “Long-Time Co-Conspirators,” nature-based fiber art sculptural vessels by Karen Simmons and jewelry by Jas Simmons through Jan. 28.
The show is filled with Karen’s fragile yet beautifully tied and woven constructions made of twigs, feathers, seed pods and grasses. The vessel forms are made of flower petals and other plant fibers in a process that parallels paper making.
Her sculpture echoes many natural architectural forms like bird’s nests, mud wasp nests, beehives and termite mounds.
She discovers a contemplative logic in constructions made by animals and insects that seem to work within the rhythmic cadence of wind gusts and rain showers without the anxiety with which many of us are burdened.
Her work has a distinctive Asian feeling reminiscent of Japanese Raku tea bowls as well as traditional Japanese bamboo weavings. Since some of her vessels float within rectilinear constructions made from plant stems, Karen also touches upon Japanese traditional packaging designs based on bamboo boxes built to safely carry valuable porcelain vessels for shipping.
In “Repose” she suspends a jar form within a structure built from stems with just enough triangulation to keep the fragile piece from collapsing. It is a gorgeous and well-designed work.
Karen celebrates the four seasons with her “Bower Bird” series of pod-like vessels mounted in handmade boxes.
In an untitled construction Karen utilizes striped tapered sticks to embellish a vessel bound in a hand-made box that becomes an altar or shrine from some forgotten culture. It is a stunning piece.
In her artist statement she cites the writings of Gretel Ehrlich, who penned: “A nest is a cup of space, a swinging cradle, an anchored platform, a pocket in bark or dirt … a dent in the sand. It represents the still-point … where past and future meet.”
When Lucy Lippard published “Overlay” 30 years ago she was chronicling the already eight-decades-old interface between ancient primitive art and modernism introduced by Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and others.
But Lippard was examining the parallels between contemporary art and prehistoric art by land-based installation artists like Mary Miss, Michael Heizer, Michael McCafferty and many others who at the time were inspired in part by ancient European megaliths, stone spirals and Native American cultures like the mysterious mound builders.
At that time there were other artists who looked closely at ritual objects from aboriginal cultures and found in them an amazing continuity between the past and present.
My first encounter with painted sticks in a contemporary art setting was in the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial in 1970. Several pieces in the show were fashioned from fragments of tree branches that had been wrapped with string or rawhide and painted with bands of color. They looked quite old like bits of an ancient altar.
Despite all of the historic connections I find Karen’s work to be too quiet for prime time in the ’70s and too well-executed for installation art from the ’90s.
Instead her work is a refreshing look at nature and low technology that cleanses the eye and stills mind in an era of incessant electronic assaults on our waning attention.
The very carefully designed and executed jewelry by Jas is an elegant blend of silver and bronze. His designs are a harmonious mingling of geometric and organic forms that share a distant kinship with ancient Egyptian jewelry.
Both artists are well worth a visit.