Friday, May 20, 2011
Accidental pictures and organic forms dominate BlackRock exhibit
byOn View, Claudia Rousseau
A three-person exhibit in the Art Gallery at the BlackRock Center for the Arts is modest, but intriguing. While the works in this exhibit are generally on a scale too small for the large, airy space, this requires the viewer to move in closely, and to look harder.
The photographs of the late Carl Dahlke are selected from a body of work titled “The World at My Feet.” Dahlke passed away last November, so the exhibition takes on the character of a memorial. Fascinated by the patterns and forms that one can frame looking down, many of his photographs have a faintly naive quality. They reminded me of looking at the street while walking to school as a child, checking for cracks, or becoming enthralled by some detritus or accidental formation on the sidewalk. In this, they provoke memory of a kind of experience that is fairly universal.
Dahlke was a software developer, and had remarked in his artist’s statement that his photography, which he practiced alongside this frenetic work, forced him to slow down and give himself the time and space to see those small things that get passed over so easily in our ordinary lives. This idea is well communicated in the photos where the surprising beauty of a few pieces of blue glass strewn on the ground (“Blue Glass on Ground”) or the accidental crucifix formed by some bits of glass and leaves over the cross pattern formed by the seams of concrete panels on the street (“Green Glass and Cross”) record that stopping and looking. A number of photos include painted marks on the street the kind that usually herald construction of some kind and send a chill through the average commuter. Dahlke found interest in these somewhat mysterious marks, and ways to pair them with other shapes to create his unexpected compositions. Again, these are modest pictures, but they hold the sense of delight and thoughtful contemplation with which they were taken.
Leila Holtsman’s contribution to this exhibit includes two three-dimensional works and a group of “Frieze Studies,” all of which involve a technique of printing with acrylic ink on steel, most of it salvaged. Among the more interesting aspects of the imagery printed on the steel pieces is the dominance of plant and other organic forms, perhaps suggesting the entropy in nature, where plant life begins to creep back over abandoned structures. In this, there is some connection with Dahlke’s photos that seem to document those forgotten places, and in a few instances, loads of junk and broken bits pushed into piles (“Heavy Hand 1 and 2”). Holtsman also uses mythological references, such as the horned moon crown of Isis, or the arms of the empowered goddess raised in ceremonial gesture. While I could have wished for a richer use of this imagery, perhaps with more color and more consistency, the message it makes is fairly clear. The best works are the two sculptures, “Untitled (Strella #1 and #2) of salvaged steel made into star or mountain-like forms about a foot high, lovely in their ruffled edges and the vegetative, netted imagery growing up over them.
Last, but certainly not least, are the paper sculptures of Jessica Beels that make up the largest number of pieces in the show. All are small, delicate and evocative of the amazing and often hidden patterns of growth in nature. Beels has developed a technique of wrapping a steel or brass armature with overbeaten wet flax and creating a taut, translucent skin with paper derived from the leaves or the bark of trees like mulberry (kozo and gampi fibers). The effect is extraordinary in that the resulting objects feel as if they are themselves, natural forms, with all the delicacy and surprising strength that things like bones and shells possess. For example, there are nautilus forms that look like the bleached remnants of these animals, the echo of their marvelous bony structures still evident in death.
I loved “Nautilus Skeleton,” a large wall piece that looks heavy but has that same surprising lightness that such things have in nature. The tiny cup-like forms that are part of her “Lotus series” are delicate and light as flowers, and other small pieces look like strange creatures that might be found stranded on the beach in late summer.
Two works have a more scientific or biological character: “Protein (Dodecamer)” and the “Fractal/Julia” set. “Protein” is a spiral form with points and curves that connote the tiny structures that make up the stuff of life. The Fractal series refer to the fractal patterns in nature, especially in shells, which these works evoke. Finally, three small scale pitcher-like forms (“Polka-dot squash series”) are painted with metallic acrylic to create light and dark patterns on their surfaces. They feel like something between the jeweled cups of Benvenuto Cellini and the artifacts of the tomb of an ancient Near Eastern queen that include a necklace of golden leaves. With her degree in art history from Harvard, I suspect Beels intended this reference something she expresses more fully in the jewelry she also makes. Beels’ artist’s statement sums up her aims evident in these works: “I am intrigued by the combination of geometry and randomness in natural forms, how patterns dissolve into and echo each other. Whether jewelry, vessels or purely contemplative pieces, my work explores the juxtaposition of interior and exterior spaces, light and shadow.”
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Leila Holtsman used gesso and broad panels of steel to tell the story of the Temple of Dendur, what began as an ancient Nubian temple, got its name after a flashy Roman makeover and is now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection in New York City.
“I’m trying to tell the story of three different points of the temple’s life,” said Holtsman, who chatted with Patch from her metal studio in Beltsville, Md.
The panels Holtsman created are part of a three-artist, mixed-media exhibit on view at BlackRock Center for the Arts. The theater is hosting a reception Saturday, May 14.
Holtsman said the work featured in the Germantown exhibit are studies for a 120-foot work she’s spent a year developing for an upcoming solo show at Artisphere. She said power and sacrifice were common themes for Dendur. Storyboarding and mockups have helped her organize the concept visually, she said.
“I’ve got well over 100 images going into this piece,” she said. “I’ve got a palette of five, six colors, photos that I’ve purchased that I couldn’t take myself. I’m telling three stories in a frame of how all this came about. It’s a lot to keep up with.”
This fascination with ancient temples started at an early age.
Holtsman of Garrett Park, Md., grew up in Maryland, but her parents were globetrotters. She spent 10 years of her childhood living in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Arabic was her first language, she said.
“When you live there, it really is another world,” she said. “You walk through things that have been left the in the same places that they were built 5,000, … 3,000 years ago. There’s something that takes over your soul, turns you into a romantic and makes you want to protect them and appreciate them just they way they had been left.”
It’s only recently that decided to devote all of her energy to being a full-time artist. Holtsman said she thought her world travels would have led to a government job, working for the U.S. Department of State, perhaps. She has a degree in international studies and Russian from University of Virginia and an MBA from University of Maryland. Yet, she left a job with the Red Cross.
She has no regrets.
“I was quitting a really great job,” Holtsman said. “In terms of the way people look at it here, it was a really desirable job, great paying, great benefits. It was interesting. Because I was leaving that, I thought it was really important to move on to something I really wanted to do. It was part of finding my voice.”