Work by two fiber artists, reflecting different artistic viewpoints, will be exhibited beginning Saturday and run through Dec. 20 at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art.
“The Thread You Follow” featuring the work of Debra Smith, of Kansas City, and Donna Sharrett, of New York, is exhibited in the Douglass Freed Gallery. While Smith creates her pieces with linings from vintage kimonos and men’s suits and also patterned neck ties, Sharett explores emotions with “mementos” and the concept of the life cycle with her intricate assemblages.
Daum Museum of Contemporary Art Director and Curator Thomas Piché Jr. said Smith collects fabric. Most recently, she has begun using men’s necktie fabric and bolts of green moire. Many of Smith’s pieces in the exhibit have never been shown before and many were created this year.
“Basically she kind of keeps the palette pretty restricted,” Piché said. “She is an out-and-out fiber artist, her BFA was from the Kansas City Art Institute, in fibers, and she studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She studied in Italy as well.”
Piché added that Smith’s pieces have sewing “ideas” incorporated in to them, but for him they represent painterly concepts.
“Rather than putting pigment on fabric, she’s using already dyed fabrics, but in a kind of very painterly way,” he noted. “You get broad plains of color … but again it’s modulating because the fabric is light-struck. There’s the moire pattern so it gives it almost a painterly texture as if it an impasto.”
In her work, that does have a pattern in the fabric, she “aligns” the rows of color creating a concept of a painting with brushstrokes.
Piché said she also “welds the iron very skillfully” when working with fabric.
“This is all about ironing,” he added. “It is subtly sewn. The sewing aspect is not highlighted as much as (Sharrett). So it’s more about the overall appearance.”
Where the seams do come together in Smith’s work, Piché said it creates a “drawn line.”
“So, it’s a combination of painting and drawing techniques, for me,” he noted. “In a way that is reminiscent of the cubists. It’s all very frontal, there’s no sense of depth in most of these. It’s all very much on the surface.”
Smith was inspired by the synthetic cubists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Piché said Smith was also influenced by the quilters of rural and remote Gee’s Bend, Alabama.
“These women in this area would make these quilts and it was largely out of scrap denim,” he added. “That also inspired her, there is a sense of patching in some of these. But, on the other hand, you could draw these easily and that is unusual for this kind of textile work. There’s a clarity to the forms …”
Sharrett’s assemblages in contast, look simple while viewed from afar, but upon closer inspection they are greatly involved and intricate.
“When you stand here and look around you get a certain sense of this work, like big dollies,” Piché said. “But, there’s a cohesive sense to it. You don’t sense the individual parts as much as you do the overall pattern. Once you get up on it, there’s all sorts of things that start to pop out.”
Once one walks up to Sharrett’s work they see time-involved, hand-sewn, bone buttons, twisted ribbons, jewelry, rose petals, guitar strings, small branches, thread, fabric and sometimes the use of dirt or black sand.
“It becomes a little overwhelming,” Piché noted. “When you first look at this, this looks like a solid piece of fabric, with this pattern of flowers and leaves. That’s your initial impression, I think. But, then when you get up on it, you realize that there was a piece of fabric with a pattern on it, but it’s all been cut out. So, it’s this very linear decorative pattern that remains.”
Sharrett then tacks down the work every quarter of an inch with a stitch. She also creates other patterns with stitches and then often uses crochet techniques to secure buttons.
“It becomes mind boggling,” he added. “When you think about it, all that trim is needle lace or other techniques, so there is real strong stitchery background in here.”
Unlike Smith, Sharrett was trained as a painter. She has a bachelor’s degree degree of Fine Art the School of Visual Arts, in New York. She began working with needlework and fibers during her mother’s illness with terminal cancer in 1989.
Piché said Sharrett learned sewing from her grandmother and mother and her work initially became a memorial to her mother. When he first saw her work in 2000 Piché said he sensed a “memorial quality” about the art.
He said Sharrett would go with her mother to the chemotherapy sessions and while they traveled and waited she began to sew.
“She would start sewing these compositions mostly with these dried petals and some pieces of fabric and hair, and made these beautiful little compositions,” he added. “After her mother died, she continued on in this vein. So, the works became kind of a memorial to her mother.”
Sharrett also lost her younger brother who was a musician during the time of 2000-2001. She then began to use guitar strings in her compositions. The work she was creating acknowledged loved ones.
“She started to use materials she found while cleaning out her brother’s place,” Piché said. “Again, she was using something that was emotionally significant to her.”
When the events of Sept. 11, 2001, happened her work changed again.
“Donna was in New York and she remembered distinctly that they found a wedding ring in the rubble that had fallen from one of the airplanes,” he noted. “This idea of a wedding ring, again another memorial aspect, but the circular aspect was very interesting to her … she wanted to explore the ideas of ritual. Not just personal memorials, the rituals behind important ceremonies like the acknowledgement of death or the of acknowledgement of weddings.
“So it has all that personal connection, but she hopes it also touches to larger ideas about ritual,” Piché added. “That’s why she uses the circular shape … there’s that yin-yang, life cycle.”
“The Thread You Follow” exhibit is open Open Oct. 1 through Dec. 20. The Daum Museum of Contemporary Art is located at State Fair Community College. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.