A quirky series of squiggles and circles dangles in layers in shadows of motion and depth. The wash of blues, greens and golds could signal seaweed or comets; planets or bubbles.
The tapestry of wool, acrylic, metallic and silk is a prototype for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
The artist is Albuquerque weaver Susan Klebanoff, whose abstract fiber creations hang in the corporate lobbies of IBM, Oracle, British Petroleum and Trammell Crow, as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico.
Klebanoff is having her first exhibition at Weems Galleries and Framing.
“The best compliment they can give me is really, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before,'” she said.
Her weavings are anything but the flat coverlets of yore. Klebanoff creates three-dimensional tapestries that shift to the play of shadow and light. Three or four layers of fiber emerge from the loom at the same time. The panels hang in front of one another, giving abstracted works the depth and perspective of landscapes.
Klebanoff’s show is the first of a series of “Artist Invitationals” to be hosted by Weems this fall. The exhibitions will replace the annual Weems Art Fest.
Gallery owner Mary Ann Weems decided to end the 32-year-old art festival after its director retired. She downscaled into a trio of invitational shows, each exhibiting the work of about five artists. The second invitational is slated for Sept. 25; the last is on Oct. 16.
Klebanoff’s work will hang from the gallery’s largest wall. Weems met the artist when there was an unexpected opening at last year’s Art Fest.
“I was blown away,” she said. “I never really forgot her. It was everything – the technique, the elaborate designs, the incredible brilliance of it. It just shimmers.”
Dressed in a white cotton sundress, Klebanoff flashes an easy smile as she escorts visitors around her Albuquerque home. She’s the kind of person who rescues lap dogs, particularly the pregnant kind. She leads guests into a nursery with a bed of six wimpering newborns, their eyes barely open.
That love of animals is nothing new. When her father complained that her beloved Samoyed puppy shed on the furniture, Klebanoff hand-spun, then wove the fur into a pillow.
“Feel it,” she said, holding it out to a visitor. “It’s softer than cashmere.”
Tapestries crown the walls of her spacious home. The living room looks out into her turquoise swimming pool. It was while she was swimming that she came up with the idea of layering to capture the movement of sunlight in the water.
“I’m a Pisces,” she explained, “a water baby.”
She mounts her pieces in Plexiglas to allow light beams to pass through the threads. She often hand-paints the yarn in acrylics, the fiber stretched across the loom like strings on a piano.
She begins by sketching out her ideas in pencil, moving on to small prototypes to show to corporate clients. Their ephemeral titles allow for multiple meanings – “Stardust,” “Subjective Interpretation.”
“I’ve woven cigarettes into a piece called ‘Obsession,'” Klebanoff said. “You can weave anything.”
She once ripped up plastic grocery bags into a hanging for an East Coast food chain.
A mammoth loom dominates her studio. Weavers are known for taking fastidious care of the wooden contraptions, cleaning and dusting them to a quiet sheen. Klebanoff’s resembles a Jackson Pollock painting, with drips and splatters bedecking the heddles, beams and treadles, the badges of decades of fiber painting.
She launched a career by working with galleries, interior designers and architects. The Smithsonian piece offered multiple hurdles.
“I had to go through nine committee approvals to get that passed,” she said.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield piece is a rare example of representational art. The weaving shows the Sandia Mountains looming over what balloonists call the “Albuquerque Box.” Triangular arrows direct the eye to the choreography of the wind currents.
Klebanoff grew up in Bethesda, Md. She took her first weaving class as an art major at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University.
“I loved it immediately,” she said. “I loved the texture. I loved all the colors and the sheen. It just sang to me.”
Her parents, while supportive, were scared.
“My mother was always saying, ‘Learn how to type,'” she said with a laugh.
“I didn’t want to be 50 years old and say, ‘If only I tried.’ I’d have rather failed and tried than not tried.”