This article showcases various exhibitions in the form of collected exhibition reviews published in the 1991 Winter issue of the Metalsmith Magazine. This features Armanda Lise Penuidic, Martha Glenny, Charlie Buck, and more!
The Medium is Metal The Theme is Water
The Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax, NS, Canada
June 7 – July 27, 1990
by Robin Metcalfe
There is a curious similarity between water and metal. Both are dense, shiny and cool to the touch. The crystalline structures of ice resemble those of precious stones. Yet, whereas metal and gems embody preciousness, stability and permanence, water is essentially ephemeral. Changing form rapidly, from solid to liquid to gas, it is the enemy of permanence, corroding metal and eroding rock, while blossoming in an abundance of shifting lifeforms.
Martha Glenny’s hinged brooch, Water, by any other name (which won an Award of Excellence), reflects the theme on three levels: in its mobile construction, in the undulating sterling waves that flank its hinges and in the laminated Paper map fragments of topographic features such as bays, glaciers and swamps that speak of water on the level of linguistic sign. The only artist to incorporate water directly in her work was Patricia Garcia. Her brooch, Aqua, includes a glass vial of water with a mobile air bubble, ringed by a broad, gorgeous blue flange of iridescent anodized titanium.
Surprisingly, there was not a single boat or ship in the show. The only vessels here were designed to contain water within. Hyewon Lee conveys a ceremonial quality in her teapot, Tea Time in Hatifax, another Award of Excellence winner. The container as tool appeared in two watering cans: one, part of an untitled sculptured by George Bartel, looks like it should work, but doesn’t while Anne Barross Watering Can constructed basketlike from strips of painted tin plate, looks like it shouldn’t, but apparently does. Bartel’s is one of two forged-iron pieces, both contributed by Nova Scotians. John Little’s wall piece, Clouds, has a naive charm, although his raindrops on their long stems have some of the globular quality of black balloons.
From gardening, and water as weather, it is a short step to water as environment. The Steele Trophy for Best in Show went to Luc Pilon’s brooch, Cause and Effects, a miniature sculptural essay on the contamination of the water cycle by industrial pollutants. Combining precious metals and acetate, it says a lot with elegant economy, climaxing in a dying skeletal fish rising to the surface, as if delivering an oracular warning.
If anything in the show verges on the commonplace, it was the ubiquity of fish motifs. Fortunately, these were redeemed by some particularly effective work, such as Amanda Lise Penvidic’s Lake Ontario Carp brooch. Winner of the Design Award, it is a calculated balance of textures, from spiny wire-work to a scaly tail cast from a cuttlefish. Its repoussé belly conveys a sense of cold, gelatinous fishiness.
This was the first of the Metal Arts Guild’s national Canadian exhibitions to be organized outside Ontario. For a show originating from Nova Scotia, “Canada’s Ocean Playground,” water may seem an obvious choice for a theme. Fortunately, the artists have fished out some of the rich possibilities that lurk beneath the surface.
Robin Metcalfe is a writer living in Halifax.
Susan Cummins Gallery, Mill Valley, CA
September 4 – 29, 1990
by Vanessa S. Lynn
Charlie Buck mines the mind. The current focus of her work is focus. Struggling to refine one’s thoughts, contemplating, in the isolation of the studio, whether one’s ideas are worthy of further pursuit, these are issues germaine to the creative process. Buck’s current series – all heads – is an allegory for this cerebral concentration.
The formal evolution of this work is clear, especially in her reengagement of the spiral, a hallmark of her earlier, more decorative jewelry. Now, using round rather than square wire, she effectively recovers the graceful linearity that has been her signature. The spiral continues as her symbol of whirlwind mental process, with the line acting as stability and direction.
Ten pieces were completed for the current exhibit, seven of which use wire like a pencil-line in space, defining the head in oxidized (suggesting graphite) tones. While these clean stylizations often are reminiscent of Alexander Calder’s wire portraits, Buck’s are intentionally schematized to promote the universality of her metaphor.
In Household, 1989, miniature constructions of a house, ladder, chair, key and dice are randomly tossed about in a funnel, the figurative cyclone of a woman’s mind. The two later Zealot compositions show a greater visual control over her angst, culminating in Maelstrom, where Buck comes closest to capturing the appropriate disarray of mental turmoil. This is accomplished by deviating from her stark, linear elegance and momentarily abandoning her commitment to flatness. Here, the sturm und drang becomes palpable. But to make these pieces truly animate, she must get closer to a physical vocabulary that is as intense as the emotions she means to convey. Right now, the ease of her refined, controlled sensibility dilutes the feeling of troublesome problem-solving, which she seems to be after.
While working on the linear head series, Buck tried a different tack. The three new heads are more masklike, constructed from horizontally scored sheer in silver, 14k gold and oxides. They are more oblique, more abstract and potentially even more interesting. Here the cool, aloof demeanor seems more appropriate to Buck’s current disposition towards this theme. Although it might only be a temporary “turn of mind,” it continues to be a pleasure to think about an artist, thinking about thinking.
Vanessa S. Lynn is a frequent contributor to Metalsmith.
Two Friends Gallery, Galvenston, TX
July 28 – August 21, 1990
by Claire Holliday
Diane Falkenhagen is finding a strong voice to express the clash of manmade things with nature. The energy of wind and water, the power of the sun, the life-supporting nutrients in decaying matter, all shape her newest work. She enjoys working with a variety of materials: slate, plastic laminate, Corian, glass and gemstones in addition to metals. They are chosen because they are natural, because they look like they were found in nature (speckled-gray Corian is convincing as sand and rock) or because they are true to their synthetic nature (a brilliant red glass bead, fragments of red glass rod or lemon-yellow plastic).
In many of the brooches from her “Landscape” series, Falkenhagen allows the viewer to see the composition from different perspectives. In pieces like Serenity, Stillness and Remnants, the general shape is triangular, with the upper horizontal section consisting of several pieces of metal and plastic. The pieces are arranged in receding planes with undulating, jagged edges. In the lower section are stacked layers of irregularly worked plastic and Corian sheets that suggest waves, wind-ridged sand or weathered rocks. These elements are seen from a bird’s-eye view. You focus on a patch of sand at your feet then, slowly raising your head, you see the expanding beach grow and then disappear on the horizon. Into this rhythmic setting, Falkenhagen drops some flotsam and jetsam: a golden twig, an unnaturally vivid red bead, a shard of plastic or section of an architectural element in metal. Who’s responsible for this debris?
In Fallen Branches, a hollow, “man-made” metal form, scratched, scarred and sliced open, forms a circle with silver branches that are caught on a lattice fence. The gently decaying branches support new life, symbolized by the glistening gemstones. In Landscape Brooch #12: Debris and Nature’s Way, she has taken a geological cross-section of “earth”, building her components vertically. A single flower blooms on each piece – a sunseeking survivor, flourishing on a 20th-century trash heap. Yet, the blossoms Falkenhagen has chosen are glass and loaded with contradictory feelings of fragility, beauty strength, brittleness and perfection. “What kind of life form is this?” The question is ultimately the point of it all.
Claire Holliday is a metalsmith and chairs the Metals Department of the Southwest Craft Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Sandler Hudson Gallery, Atlanta, GA
July 27 – September 8, 1990
by David Butler
Steel has been like a stepchild in the family of jewelry metals. Though malleable when hot, it is unyielding when cold. When soldered to gold, it contaminates the pickle. Unless protected, it can rapidly oxidize. These factors added to a misplaced belief that all jewelry should be silver and gold, shiny and sparkly, have caused many jewelers to shy away from steel.
Rob Jackson’s exhibit at Sandler Hudson Gallery in Atlanta shows the potential of steel as a jewelry material. In Overlook Bracelet, he combines steel, 18k gold and tourmalines to create a flexible, rough-hewn circlet that speaks of strength and seriousness. Though crude in appearance, it is obviously a well-crafted piece. In fact, by leaving the working marks on the gold, the voice of the steel comes through more strongly.
A more delicate approach to steel is found in Hinged Earrings. Here, he has cut and filed parts of the steel to create a more mechanized look to contrast with the rougher sections of the earrings. In this way, he pushes past the material as the main point of the piece.
Hinged Earrings along with The Iron Sea pin were the highlights of the jewelry portion of the show. Unfortunately, Jackson chose to include a “Car Pin Series” that detracted from the effectiveness of the exhibit. Though well-crafted brooches that incorporate gold, silver and stones, the dog and car imagery came across as clever, lightweight fluff. Editing these and a few other disparate works out of the show would have strengthened the entire presentation.
The two containers shown were consistent in quality though different from the steel jewelry. Green Door is a container/brooch, a green, distorted door, juxtaposed to a square column of stamped gold leaves. It presents a mysterious image, inviting the question, “What’s behind the door?” When the door is opened, there is a small container like space on the other side…empty. Presumably, wearers could complete the piece by placing their own objects inside. Confined Decisions is a pill box with the chased image of a salamander inside, caged by a criss-crossed silver wire on the hinged lid. The reverse image of the amphibian appears on the bottom of the box. It is an intriguing little piece and, like the best of the steel jewelry, it transcends material and technique.
David Butler is a jeweler living in Atlanta.
Introducing Jordan Schlanger
Artwear, New York, NY
August 2 – 16, 1990
by Gail M. Brown
Artwear’s introduction of Jordan Schlanger was through a large body of wearable metalwork made in the last three years. The work strikes out in many directions. Schlanger uses both precious and nonprecious metals in experimenting with heat-treating processes. These technical interests combine with a love of botany and marine life to provide the basis for the current collection of necklaces, collars, earrings, bracelets and gauntlets. The work is presented in three series: “The Segments,” “The Mechanicals” and “The Botanicals.”
In “The Segments,” forms are fabricated from graduated brass units, fused with silver or gold. The bottom of each section fits the open end of the next, recalling an articulated vertebrae. These free-moving joints have been frozen in the desired position to create gesture. The brass is often darkened to contrast with the decorative surface of the precious metals. The scale is dramatic, yet the pieces are lightweight and wearable.
In “The Mechanicals,” sheets of hollow beads and machine-made or fabricated shapes form a flexible lattice of internally linked units. The mesh recalls old-fashioned lace and crochet. In fact, Schlanger uses it in collars, shawls, belts and gauntlets. The novelty of “The Mechanicals” lies in their architecture of molecular structures, where even the snap closures are used as a design.
In “The Botanicals,” copper wire is drawn to the thinness of hair and woven into a web. These forms, of 24k gold, sterling silver or blue-green patina, vary from delicate open wire to solid opaque surfaces. “The Botanicals” are inspired by the fragility of spring blossoms and the discovery that metal allows the exploration of delicate, weightless forms, hence titles like Clouds and Flapjack. The necklaces have a simple, dangling form repeated around the beaded neck-wire. There is a spontaneity in this work, an immediacy. The “hands-on,” thumbprint approach brings Schlanger closer to the intimate possibilities of metal.
Gail M. Brown is assistant to the director of Views Gallery in Manayunk, PA.