Art preview: Exhibition at Society for Contemporary Craft highlights works of three artists


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The cartoon-like images and effervescent colors that Kevin Snipes wraps around his ceramic vessels belie the underlying narrative, giving each work a double take aspect. Is that a smile or adolescent angst? Are the figures with their long rubbery arms and legs nimble and loose, or is the emphasis on the way they're constricted, sometimes cropped, to fit the shape of the vessel they're drawn upon?

"Snipes has a particular fascination with duality," writes Robert Silberman in an essay reproduced in a Society for Contemporary Craft exhibition brochure. Mr. Snipes, an internationally exhibited artist who lives in Chicago, will be in Pittsburgh Monday to lead a workshop and participate in a public program at the society.

'Bridge 12: Melissa Cameron, Kevin Snipes, Betty Vera'

Where: Society for Contemporary Craft, 2100 Smallman St., Strip District.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday through March 30.

Admission: $5 suggested donation.

Source cabinets: Items that inspire and materials from each artist.

Information: 412-261-7003 or www.contemporarycraft.org.

Several of his works (all but one of which have sold) are exhibited along with those of two other artists in "Bridge 12: Melissa Cameron, Kevin Snipes, Betty Vera."

"[The artist] is not interested in some grand metaphysical-cosmological yin/yang sort of thing," continues Mr. Silberman, associate professor of art history at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "His double vision more often involves the exploration of that old boy-girl, masculine-feminine, 'Who can explain love?' business."

Guys ride low-slung bikes, their eyes migrating to the edges of their faces, lips following, perhaps trying to see around the curve of a pot to a nude with flowing hair. Decorative elements include pop culture references, atomic models, a chart of alternating x's and o's that could reference binary numbers or tic-tac-toe, abstract areas of color. Extensions are added to the clay forms that sometimes accommodate ears or a pouf of hair, or simply appear as growths. Mr. Snipes' admiration for cartoonist Lynda Barry and the late graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat shows up in kindred expression.

While playful on one level, Mr. Snipes, who is African-American, is intrinsically interested in otherness, although he doesn't express that in the "usual identity politics fashion," Mr. Silberman points out. His larger concern is with communication and miscommunication.

"The spaces in his work serve as metaphorical allusions to the spaces between people, but also as what he calls spaces of alchemy that indicate possibility."

Of late, however, race has become more overt. In "Samo, Samo," a young man wearing a polka-dotted headband, shorts and a T-shirt with a Hello Kitty image, holds an ice cream bar with blackface features that has a bite taken out. "Taste like chicken" reads a cartoon balloon drawn on a clay extension.

Rather than providing answers, Mr. Snipes suggests stories that viewers may complete.

Rounding out the quality of his work is the Philadelphia native's technical acumen, acquired at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts, and at the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he earned his master's. What looks casual is controlled; what looks easy comes only via a thorough understanding of the nature of clay and glaze, and a familiarity with line that allows aberration.

Three artists

The Bridge Exhibition Series was begun in 1988 to highlight artists whose work reflects the blending of boundaries between what is conventionally thought of as art and as craft. Mr. Snipes bridges clay and drawing, Ms. Vera weaving and photography. Ms. Cameron's treatment of metals incorporates her undergraduate study of interior architecture.

Ms. Vera, who was born in Carbondale, Ill., in 1944 and lives in Woodstock, N.Y., exhibits large, richly colored and textured tapestries that appear to be abstract compositions. They originate, however, as photographs that are digitally altered and translated into textile software for a Jacquard loom that does the actual weaving.

"They're about capturing forgotten moments or pattern or paint splatter," says Kate Lydon, society director of exhibitions.

The almost lustrous, color-saturated surface of "Discarded" is interrupted by a curving pattern of white lines that comes from a discarded thread lying on the floor of the North Carolina mill where Ms. Vera works. Other of the wall hangings are even less referential. One tapestry, the 47-by-102-inch "Fenced," is photo realistic. It is the late-day image of a chain-link fence in a neglected location, edged with weeds and debris. The artist finds "beauty in gritty things," Ms. Lydon says. "Some people just walk by and don't see how cool that is."

Ms. Vera earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts in drawing and painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, then studied textile design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design, New York. She was already merging painting and fiber art, a practice she has perfected in amazingly complex surfaces, before enrolling at Montclair State University, New Jersey, from which she received a master's of fine arts in studio art.

"The magic is in determining, pixel by pixel, how the limitation of six or eight colors in the warp and only black and white in the weft can create 45 to 60 hues optically," writes writer and studio artist Patricia Malarcher in the exhibition brochure. Colors are mixed by the eye in weaving as they are when viewing pointillist paintings, she explains.

Ethereal metal

Metalsmith Melissa Cameron's internationally exhibited and collected works are the most fanciful because they are so unlikely. She "takes a hard object and makes it ethereal in a way," Ms. Lydon says.

Using found material has been popular with artists for decades and many have worked with the same objects she employs, but the Australian native and Seattle resident raises the bar through painstaking craftsmanship and the dimensional vision acquired from studying architectural spaces.

A snowflake or floral form -- symmetrical, somewhat geometric -- is hand- or laser-cut out of a small discarded tobacco tin and made into a brooch. Ms. Cameron is not the first to do this, but she continues to work the form, cutting increasingly smaller bands from the original, reminiscent of tree rings, which she then spaces one above the other with the thinnest of steel or silk wires, adding dimensionality and, in some instances, movement. After wearing, the "void brooch" is returned to its source and becomes a small sculpture, or is displayed alongside as a diptych.

Other transformed items include a cigarette case, powder compact, bamboo plate and small skillet.

Sometimes both cutout and container become wearable objects, continuing a conversation that is ultimately about the relationship "between part and whole, fragment and original" as craft and design historian Marilyn Zapf writes for the exhibition, and, by extrapolation, about the interrelatedness of civilizations and of environmental factors.

Born in 1978 in Perth, Ms. Cameron earned a bachelor's degree and postgraduate Diploma of Jewellery Production at Curtin University, Perth, and master's at Monash University, Melbourne.

The artists of "Bridge 12" illustrate, to everyone's delight, the endless repository of human imagination that is both inspiring and hopeful.

Talks and workshops

• Jan. 21, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.: Drawing on Porcelain Tiles with Kevin Snipes ($100 plus $20 materials fee).

• Jan. 21, 4:30-6 p.m.: "Blackness, Otherness & A Multiplicity of Dualities," Kevin Snipes speaks about his work, followed by "Faces Seen, Hearts Unknown," a dialogue with nine community members about issues of identity. Matt Arch, program manger at the Center for Inclusion at UPMC, will moderate. Participants include Mary Martin, ceramist and Winchester Thurston School teacher, and Yoko Sekino-Bove, ceramist and Waynesburg University faculty (to participate in the dialogue, RSVP by Friday). Admission $5 at the door.

March 2, 5-6 p.m.: Public reception for Melissa Cameron; $5 suggested donation.

March 2-3, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.: Building Jewelry from Found Objects with Melissa Cameron ($200 plus $35 materials fee).

Preregistration required for workshops at 412-261-7003 or www.contemporarycraft.org.

artarchitecture

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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