It’s been almost 40 years since artists swapped their paintbrushes for needles and thread, and a century since they traded wood, stone and clay for wire and steel. Over time, the distinction among fine, industrial and decorative arts has eroded, and the status of so-called “women’s arts”—needlecraft and weaving—has been elevated and given the tonier label of “fiber arts.” In fact, the word “craft” has practically disappeared, even as many aspects of craft have been absorbed by contemporary art. Certainly, the quilts of Gee’s Bend and the textile sculptures of Lenore Tawney have played an important role in making crafts legitimate, and Peter Voulko’s improvisational ceramic sculpture of the 1950s eventually entered the history of abstract expressionism. But are Cathy Breslaw’s fiber wall hangings and sculptures craft or art, and does it really matter in this postmodern, postmedium age?
- From the Calendar
- Cathy Breslaw’s Weightless
- Through May 14
- Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
- Charleston Heights Arts Center, 229-4674.
The pioneering fiber artists used traditional materials and techniques to make feminist statements, but, as both men and women fill galleries with crocheted sculpture and stitched canvases, other conceptual concerns have emerged. The San Diego-based Breslaw’s use of industrial fiber mesh is intended as a statement about wastefulness and global interconnectedness. Since the mesh is manufactured in China and used to make disposable items, its use in nondisposable works of art is ecologically responsible; but Breslaw’s fusion of painting, weaving and sculpture is first and foremost breathtakingly beautiful. While she layers transparent pastel-hued mesh in subtle combinations that seem to glow, her sense of color is exquisite. The juxtaposition of pale yellow, peach and pink in her three small wall hangings “Dawn to Dusk,” “Notes” and “Tempo” is luminous, and her use of black fabric puckered into opaque bars and spikes creates piquant visual rhythms.
Many of the wall hangings have a decidedly domestic feel—but with a theatrical flair. “Big Green,” in which wide bands of pale lilac and green alternate with shockingly vibrant strips of black and red, is reminiscent of a Navajo rug. Other hangings have a delightful ambiguity suggesting curtained windows in cozy rooms and the unpredictable, albeit gentle, forces of nature. In “Blue Breeze,” generous amounts of billowing and cascading blue and yellow fabric are punctuated with a vein of black. In “Ebb and Flow,” ribbons of red, black and white fabric drape, swag and curl into tight shapes that suggest eddies.
Breslaw’s five black fiber-mesh sculptures bear the show’s title, Weightless—suspended from the ceiling they do seem almost weightless. Airy and charming as they are, I miss the interplay of color that is Breslaw’s greatest strength. However, she has pushed beyond traditional techniques to reveal the latent beauty in an aesthetically unpromising material, creating works that are deeply resonant. An art critic once said, “Art doesn’t have to do anything except convince you that it is art.” For me, Breslaw’s gossamer creations are convincing.