Claire Campbell Parks Rethinks The Use Of Fiber As Medium.
By Margaret Regan
IN THE HANDS of Claire Campbell Parks, the humble components of cloth-linen wisps, cotton floss and metallic threads undergo a transformation into art.
The internationally known weaver is exhibiting a modest suite of just eight works at Obsidian Gallery, one of the city's best repositories of fine crafts. But there's nothing at all modest about Parks' aesthetic ambition. The Pima Community College professor is a serious artist who's a master of color and a creator of complicated compositions. Her gorgeously textured art just happens to be made of fiber.
"Celebration" is a case in point. A long, narrow weaving that hangs horizontally, the piece has a series of seven bright vertical bands heading east in no particular color order. On the most visceral level, it's a giddy rejoicing in all the hues that the artist has been able to muster, from navy to orange to cerulean to yellow and blue. Its richly varied textures show off the combination of weaving techniques that are a Parks trademark.
The vertical bands are so tightly woven that a viewer can see only the weft, not the warp. Gallery owner Elouise Rusk says this taut technique is called a "rep weave." It allows for strong color undiluted by opposing threads. But behind the brilliant vertical bands is a weave of an altogether different character: Loose and supple, these freewheeling background flosses snub tapestry's traditional tidiness. At the left of the piece, they do make an effort at order, obligingly organizing themselves into some subdued stripes. But by the time they get halfway across the weaving, they've allowed their stripes to dissolve into pure anarchy.
The contrast between the disciplined rep weaves and their anarchic confreres is what makes this "Celebration" so delicious: Like any weaving, it's about pleasing texture and color, but it's also about clashing ideas of form.
Two smaller pieces, "Decision" and "Decision Gone Haywire," are also witty takes on ideas about art. "Decision" has three tame bands of rep weave in subdued white, gray and black, each crossed by a thin red line. All around them is a loose weave in a cacophony of color so variegated it's like a paean to the sewing basket overturned, emptied of flosses from yellow to green, from blue to purple. "Decision" looks pretty darn footloose until one proceeds to its companion piece, "Decision Gone Haywire." This one is probably the very definition of weaving revolution. The same well-behaved neutral stripes cross the center of the piece, but all around them the colored flosses are engaged in a weaving riot. Snipped free of their moorings at one end, they've become wild, undulating strings. They stick so far out from the background's flat surface that the piece becomes 3-D.
It's not surprising to find that the painterly Parks mats and frames many of her works, just as though they were paintings. A few weavings do hang unfettered on the wall, their central images more conventionally framed by strips of woven cloth. Ironically, these unframed weavings hint at figurative images more than the framed works do. The wavy blue sedimentary layers in "Elements," shot through with metallic threads, suggest geologic rock or the assorted depths of the sea. The lovely "Koi III," banded in alluring shades of earth and olive green, is a wavy near-abstraction punctuated by the organic orange shapes of the koi.
Parks has traveled and lectured around the world, and the various national weaving traditions occasionally surface in her work. As a Peace Corps worker in Morocco, Rusk says, Parks studied North African weaving, and the delicate corner stripes in "Koi III" seem to rise out of the Sahara. Likewise the serene koi pieces look Asian, and Parks has indeed studied and lectured in Japan.
Influences closer to home can be found in a group show at the Tucson Pima Arts Council, Tapestries from the Southwest. This large exhibition of 30 works by almost as many weavers (who live in an arc from Texas to California) was juried by Rudy H. Turk, former director of the University Art Museum at Arizona State University. While nearly all the weavers here use standard techniques that keep their threads flat and tamed, there is nevertheless plenty of variation in their work. Mary Dieterich of Tempe uses what looks like silk (the media aren't disclosed) to make a tiny rendering of yellow and orange blossoms. Called "Line Dance," the delicate work has an Old World look about it, like a tapestry found in a French or Belgian home. Conversely, R. Darden Bradshaw of Tucson goes totally Southwest in "Out! To Sea," a strangely desert-like tapestry rendered in thick purple yarns. This is a funny piece of neo-photorealism unusual for weaving: It pictures an aviator smiling outside his plane.
Robin Reider gives the nod to traditional tribal techniques in her "African Sunset," a work in gold, brown and black whose bold geometries seem more Navajo than African. (For a look at authentic Navajo weaving, see First Nation: Fine Weavers, continuing through March 14 at Tohono Chul Gallery.)
A couple of the weavers come close to Parks' masterful aesthetic. Marta Rogoyska of California has boldly distilled patio shapes in her "Courtyard Series VII," and Phoenician Vera W. Kopecek's "Blues" is a jazzy abstraction of pinks, oranges and blues. Jane Hoffman of Alpine has turned her painterly impulse into a detailed woven landscape of the White Mountains, complete with blue-gray clouds, purple mountains and green canyons. It's a work of astonishing virtuosity, but without the intellectual subtleties of Parks' art in cloth.
Weavings by Claire Campbell Parks are on exhibit through Saturday, March 20, at Obsidian Gallery in St. Philip's Plaza, 4340 N. Campbell Ave. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 577-3598.
Tapestries from the Southwest continues through Friday, March 12, at the Tucson Pima Arts Council Community Gallery, 240 N. Stone Ave. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 624-0595.
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