Movement and Metamorphosis

UA's Joseph Gross Gallery exhibits three artists who play with the idea of 2-D vs. 3-D

Carrie Seid's shimmering sculptures in silk and copper show up fairly often around town--right now she's in group exhibitions at Joseph Gross and Conrad Wilde--but their familiarity doesn't dim their brilliance.

Her exquisite mixed-media pieces glisten in reds and oranges, with copper sculptures glowing behind translucent cloth that she picks up at a local fabric store. And in fact, Seid, now a visiting professor of fiber at the UA, started out as a fiber artist.

The Chicago native studied weaving at the Rhode Island School of Design, but found she had a "hunger for fine arts." So in grad school at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Seid started playing around with other materials, wood, metal--and light.

"I started dealing with light as a material, with its reflective and translucent qualities," she says in a quick phone call from Chicago, before setting out for her home in Tucson, "and started making work that's a weird amalgam of textile and sculpture."

Her wall sculptures begin with a smallish wooden box frame--some pieces are only a foot square. These deep frames become shadow boxes for her sculptures. Inside them, flat pieces of copper are twisted into repetitive shapes that suggest vertebrae or corn husks and other natural patterns.

Once the copper is inside, Seid stretches colored silk across the boxes, and fastens the cloth taut. But the shiny copper within remains invisible until Seid applies an oil to the silk. (The oil makes the silk translucent.) The artist is always a little bit in suspense until this moment of revelation: As in photography or in printmaking, the final work can be a surprise.

"Husk," one of 11 Seid sculptures in the three-person show at Joseph Gross, has four V-shaped copper pieces standing in a row, like so many incipient ears of corn. Lighted up in the gallery, the deep-red silk alternates with glints of copper and dark maroon shadows.

"Burners" has four bursts of copper flaming underneath orange silk, with swathes of tan in between the metal. Four columns of vertebrae, piled one atop the other, march across "Spine Box II," covered in lush red.

All of Seid's works have an alluring interplay of light and color and texture. The silk hovers soft and sensuous over the hard, cool metal. The colors change depending on the light and a viewer's vantage point in the gallery. Crimson turns to maroon at the edges of the copper, and the copper veers from pale glints of yellow to robust rust.

And the light plays optical tricks. Sometimes the husks or the spines or the flames "read" as positive images, against a darker background. But then the spaces in between become the figures, and the husks recede into negative space. And from across the room, the silk casing virtually disappears, becoming just a rich color, and the copper sculptures within seem to emerge into the light.

"Painting is an illusion between two and three dimensions," Seid says. "With the addition of shadow, paint and color, I try to confuse the issue. Sometimes (the works fall within) the conventions of painting, sometimes with the conventions of sculpture."

Blake Shell, curator of the University of Arizona galleries, says that all three artists in the show--Seid, photographer Martina Shenal and painter Bruce Futrell--"play with the idea of 2-D vs. 3-D.

"Carrie looks through expanses of silk into 3-D sculptures. Bruce makes his paintings 3-D by building a structure (behind the painting) that presses up against the canvas. And Martina manipulates the eye by looking through a scrim" at the objects in her color photographs.

"I wanted to do an Arizona artists show," Shell says, "and I saw the connection between them and realized they should be shown together."

All three artists also hint at movement, hence the show's title, Ectasis, an obscure word that means "slow, steady, almost imperceptible outward movement," Shell says.

Phoenix artist Futrell sometimes works in the same palette as Seid. In three of his acrylic paintings, narrow vertical stripes in red, yellow and orange vibrate across the canvas. This trio of works is arranged side by side on the wall, the deep scarlets and coppers of painting "#24" on the left giving way to the medium red-orange and ocher of "#23" in the middle, and finally bleaching out to the pale lemon and light orange of "#27" on the right.

These three radiant sun works have a movement all their own, derived solely from what Shell calls their "vibratory colors." But in two larger striped paintings, an interior structure literally moves the canvas out into the air, and puts them on a path, like Seid's, toward sculpture. A wooden curve like a boomerang is positioned behind the upper half of "#3," interrupting the downward passage of the painting's silvery blue lines from top to bottom of the canvas. Instead, they detour out into the atmosphere.

A similar curve slices out from the lower half of painting "#2," a more textured striped affair whose gold and yellow pigments pool occasionally into satisfyingly undisciplined drips.

Shenal, an assistant director of the UA School of Art, makes large-format chromogenic prints--delicately pigmented color photographs. But she also veers away from the expected by photographing her objects through a scrim, the thin theatrical cloth used in stage productions to transform performers into mere silhouettes.

Her scrim is thin enough that its results are not that drastic, but it does endow all of her works with a dream-like quality. Ordinary objects morph into something more mysterious.

The frayed edge of a lamp, in "Untitled (fray)," photographed in creamy close-up, looks more like a body part, a breast, say, than it does a worn-out household furnishing. The red Christmas ornaments hung vertically on a string in "Untitled (fp2)" are blurry, like a dim memory of a childhood holiday.

The butterfly in "Untitled (butterfly)"is as translucent as Seid's silks. Softly colored in red and violet, it flies upward against a pale gray background, trailing a shadow behind it, embodying all by itself the exhibition's themes of movement and metamorphosis.

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