A quilt is hard to hate: This Reed Whipple fabric exhibit will have you seeing “Double”

Cowie’s “Field of Sunflowers”

In recent years, contemporary art has witnessed a particularly energetic momentum behind practices that embrace mediums traditionally relegated to the realm of "craft." A curious soul could look as far away as the Whitney Biennial (for ceramic work from Jessica Jackson Hutchins) or as close to home as our own backyard (wall hangings by Stephen Hendee or the embroidered found-paper of recent transplant Marc Dombrosky) for exceptional examples of artists working at the ever-blurring and arguably outdated boundaries between fine art and craft.

Gould's "North Rim"

Gould's "Coastal Symphony"

The Details

Double Vision
Three stars
Through June 12
Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; free
Reed Whipple Cultural Center
Other shows worth seeing
"Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibition 2010"
UNLV's Donna Beam Gallery
through June 4
"Figuratively Speaking: A Survey of the Human Form"
Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art
opens May 1
Philip Denker's "Stretch, Press and Hook"
Trifecta Gallery
opens May 6

The Reed Whipple Cultural Center's Double Vision: Two Unique Insights in Fabric & Thread is a selection of work by New Mexico-based textile artists Jean McLaughlin Cowie and Patricia Gould. Rooted in the quilting process, the wall hangings amiably dabble in painting, photography and drawing, all the while managing to summarily bypass the exhilarating and anarchic trends in the contemporary craft movement. Vegas art snobs: Double Vision is an exhibition of quilts. Prepare to check your assumptions about craft at the door and bring the love, because it's damn hard to hate a quilt.

Seldom just for keeping warm on a chilly day, the quilt was traditionally a means of showcasing the sewing skills of its maker. Quilts were often used to tell a story, and over time evolved into a kind of oral history for a community or a movement. The unique and self-sustainable potential for conveying an idea in word, image and fabric is reflected in the quilt's rich political history: Quilts became a forum for political slogans and propaganda, not to mention a means of raising cash.

A walk through Double Vision is an undeniable lesson in the root objective of the quilt: a celebration of the immense skill of its makers. The show explodes with joy and color. Of the two, Cowie is a bit more conservative in subject matter, while far more experimental in execution. She paints directly onto the fabric and freely attaches bits of cloth to the surface in a more dimensional accumulation of pattern and texture. With minimal application of visual tools to create the illusion of space or time, the work suggests the sincere clarity of outsider art.

Cowie's naïve portrayal of flowers and trees is nicely offset by the artist's incredibly expressive technique, as seen in floral studies like "Field of Sunflowers" or "Cholla in Bloom." This technique gets more interesting in the beautifully odd spatial considerations of "Timeless Windmill" and, in particular, "The Meadow: Camas." As in compositional structure to early American painting or folk art, the foreground and background vibrantly commingle in "The Meadow," flattening into a lively stratum of shapes and patterns.

Gould's work is almost exclusively obsessed with shape and pattern. While both artists contribute landscapes to the exhibition, Gould's pieces seem more concerned with pictorial accuracy. Working from photos, the artist's keen observation of minutia translates into elaborately detailed descriptions of water, rock and sky.

Like Cowie, Gould flattens planes, but she does so without forfeiting information—the resulting depictions endlessly animate and activate like a Cezanne painting. Add to that complex textile pattern and a decoratively random zig-zag quilt stitch, and pieces like "Moonrise, North Rim" and "Coastal Symphony" absolutely shimmer. (Glitter thread helps). The ringed centers of stacked wood logs in "Petrified Log Rhythms," easily one of the exhibit's best pieces, mesmerizingly torque and turn in gorgeous tandem.

Territorial and academic categorizations fall by the wayside in Double Vision, and you're faced with ebullient wall hangings that capture the heart of a hopeful spring day. Anyone passionate about textiles, sewing or knitting will love this show. And for those with an appreciation for exceptional craftsmanship and obsessive processes, Double Vision could be the perfect vernal elixir.


Danielle Kelly

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