Connecticut Art Review is a writing platform for the visual arts in and around the state.

Review | Becca Lowry and Jane Miller

Review | Becca Lowry and Jane Miller

Review | Becca Lowry & Jane Miller

Fred Giampietro Gallery

Through April 26, 2019

Installation view.  Becca Lowry & Jane Miller  at Fred Giampietro Gallery, April 2019. Image: J. Gleisner.

Installation view. Becca Lowry & Jane Miller at Fred Giampietro Gallery, April 2019. Image: J. Gleisner.

Becca Lowry and Jane Miller’s exhibition at Fred Giampietro Gallery pairs two female artists whose works share an affinity for textural explorations that engender idiosyncratic forms. Lowry’s process of carving wood into hollowed-out vessels sits in a nebulous territory between painting and high-relief sculpture. Miller’s practice, by contrast, squarely roots itself in fiber sculpture. Between these two artists, their materials, processes, and motivations are mainly unrelated. The commonality is gender—not their gender per se, but an embrace of the off-kilter or under-appreciated that is present in the work of both artists that somehow oozes the feminine.

Miller uses mostly textiles to compose her sculptures. Recycled cloth, fibers, and other found objects are wound into whimsical shapes that do not appear to reference specific objects. Rather, the work seems to showcase the technical range of textures Miller can achieve. Green String theory for Mr. Moose (2019), hung in the gallery’s front window, looks like a crocheted cocoon that sprouted from a fuzzy lime sweater—the kind worn by funky art teachers and boho moms. Pinned from above, the sculpture has lumps and holes. It’s at once rotund and empty.

While Miller’s work appears process-driven and materially-informed, there’s no hidden agenda. In her recent statement, she states, “Though domestic in nature, [my work] has little or nothing to do with domesticity other than a nod to materials used by women who craft.” I find this kind of nodding neither suggestive nor enticing. I feel dumbfounded by Miller’s motivation to choose these materials and then dampen the associations that come with them. In a different part of the state, the first-ever museum survey of Harmony Hammond’s work at the Aldrich exemplifies the power of materials, picked for their explicit connotations, utilized for particular political gain. To appreciate Miller’s works on a formal level presupposes an ability to view fiber as objective matter. (I don’t have this.)

Becca Lowry,  winter crop  (2019). Mixed media on carved wood. 44” h by 38-1/2” w by 10-1/2” d. Image: J. Gleisner.

Becca Lowry, winter crop (2019). Mixed media on carved wood. 44” h by 38-1/2” w by 10-1/2” d. Image: J. Gleisner.

Unlike Hammond’s art, Miller’s sculptures seem zany—lighthearted, perhaps—and the eerie presence of Lowry’s nearby works proves problematic. I can name Lowry’s materials with the same relative ease—wood, canvas, paint—but her work evoked feelings that confounded me. winter crop (2019) reminded me of the dark, elongated seed pods produced by certain trees, dried banana peels that have grown shiny, and other alien ephemera that wash onto the beach, strewn and stretched by the water. With its nest of inky tentacles, this sculpture also made me think of death and of mourning.

The appeal of Lowry’s work springs from this jumble of perverse associations. At times, a sexual buzz arises. (Sourcing particular specimens inside the natural world leans the work in this direction.) Come soon (2018)—the title itself a double-entendre—could be a mouth or another orifice with its fluttery pink rim and swirling pockets of patterned crimson and jade. Georgia O’Keeffe despised the interpretation—initially imposed on her work by male art critics—that she was painting female sexuality, but flowers are, in fact, sexual beings. Again, Harmony Hammond comes to mind: “To say that I’m a woman artist, a feminist, a lesbian or queer artist, or even a painter need not be a limitation unless you make it so, nor are they mutually exclusive.” [1] Ties to the domestic or sexual can’t cage the work unless this outcome is most feared by the artist.  

Becca Lowry,  the Santa Anas  (2019). Mixed media wood carving; 44” h x 68-1/2” w x 8” d. Image: J. Gleisner.

Becca Lowry, the Santa Anas (2019). Mixed media wood carving; 44” h x 68-1/2” w x 8” d. Image: J. Gleisner.

As with O’Keeffe, the majority of Lowry’s sculptures do not elicit any sort of kinky response. Unnameable sensations are too often confused for the spiritual or sexual—an offence I’ve surely committed, too—but there is a marked change from Lowry’s 2016 exhibition alongside Tom Burckhardt and Ruth Hiller at Giampietro’s gallery. The colorful, buoyant shapes that recalled the cartoony forms of Elizabeth Murray’s shaped-works are gone. Her recent works have adopted more refined color palettes: raw umber and burnt sienna with flashes of more saturated hues. In many cases, the forms have been elongated and thinned down from the clunkier pieces that resembled shields or strange instruments. Overall, the mood has shifted from her prior work—the jazzy wall pieces with solid planes decorated with gregarious patterns—to a more sombre, unnerving tone.

Among her recent works, several of Lowry’s titles allude to particular times, as in August (2018); and as a viewer, you are very aware of the investment of time needed to create these forms that are often hewn slowly. Lowry’s process is meticulous and her output is steady, yet small.

Others in the show refer to the most fickle of the natural elements: air. the Santa Anas (2019), the most reductive work on view, references the winds that gather in Southern California named for a nearby canyon. These winds are known for bringing a hot, dry atmosphere to autumn, among other things. In Raymond Chandler’s short story “Red Wind” [2], he describes their peculiar affect:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

At their best, Lowry’s sculptures have exactly this: the skin-itching, nerve-jumping quality that these blustery gales spread.

[1]  Harmony Hammond quoted in Hossein Amirsadeghi and Maryam Eisler, Art Studio America: Contemporary Artist Spaces (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013), p. 456.

[2] Chandler, Raymond. “Red Wind.” Trouble is My Business (1939).

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