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Visual arts

Going with the flow

Two shows and mixed results at Elaine Jacob Gallery

Shelia Pepe's installation "Drawing in Space".
Janet Hamrick's "Spring Blue".
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Published 2/6/2008

Loudly speaking
by Dolores S. Slowinski

A Line Drawn on paper can — depending on how it angles, bends, doubles back, around and over itself — create the illusion of space, depth and perspective. Throw that line into space and those illusions should become palpable and exciting.

New Yorker Sheila Pepe's crocheted, irregular web of garishly colored shoelaces, braided tape and yarn doesn't quite produce that result. Stretched out between three columns and anchored to the wall at five points, it sags like a hastily installed children's party decoration waiting for the moonwalk to arrive.

The view from the emergency exit door is the best. Here at least, not only is one section seen through another, thereby increasing the density and depth of this rather weak piece, but the movement of the line in space is more energetic.

Pepe chose to leave 2- and 3-inch-long ends of shoelaces hanging free. These thorny extensions, in addition to the neon orange, loud pink, deep purple and other colors, make the piece visually irritating. A monochromatic color scheme would have unified the piece, minimized distractions and added power.

Feminist artists have utilized crocheting to create elaborate webbed installations since the 1970s under the pretext of paying homage to women's handwork. These installations seldom reflect the skill and precision wielded by the ordinary women they intend to honor. What began as a noble gesture has become a repetitious embarrassment. To apply a technique so that it looks haphazard and can encompass an open space is like playing "dress-up." Maybe it's time to sweep the cobwebs of nostalgia away and make room for fresher approaches to this technique.

Nevertheless, there is one spot in Pepe's installation that lives up to the title. In the corner adjacent to the curving stairway of the gallery, simple blue lines stretched taut between nails and screws and one edge of the web grab you by the eyeballs. Intersecting planes engage your perception as you shift from side to side. This corner is drawing in space. Your eyes know it, your brain knows it, your whole body knows it. It communicates what it is. That is all it tries to do and it does it well. Too bad this portion wasn't upped in scale and spread across the whole gallery. Then the entire installation would have been worthy of the title.

Dolores S. Slowinski is a Detroit artist and writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.


Softly sweeping
by Dennis Alan Nawrocki

"Follow" (me) whispers the title of one of the sprightly, perpetual motion paintings in this installation of 20-odd oils and watercolors by Janet Hamrick. Its brown and blue wavy arabesques twist, loop and curl against a sedate peachy-salmon background. In moments, the florid curlicues sweep the eye upward across the surface, propelling you beyond the painting's unframed, open-ended boundaries. Glance back at the canvas and you can glide again. In Weaving Light and Shadow, Hamrick's lithe, calligraphic S-curves work their aerobic magic many times over. This is a welcome, revelatory presentation of a sustained body of work from the last 15 years.

Up to now, one-person shows for Hamrick have been infrequent in our city. This native Detroiter, who studied at the College for Creative Studies and Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Fla., has, however, exhibited from Los Angeles to New York. Here, in a space of her own on the second floor of the Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, Hamrick's studied yet vivacious sensibility comes into full view. She not only seduces the viewer with her deftly rendered, intricate patterns, but conquers the heavy-handed architecture of an exhibition space dominated by four bulky columns.

Her art is reminiscent of delicate lacework, as well as the muscular clout of the so-called "pattern and decoration" movement — that mid-1970s style favored by, among others, Joyce Kozloff (one of whose tile murals graces the Financial District station of Detroit's downtown People Mover), Valerie Jaudon, Kim MacConnel, Miriam Schapiro and Robert Zakanitch. Their florid, rococo art bloomed amid the dour aesthetics of that decade's post-minimalist endgames.

Another tour de force, "Spring Blue" rivets the viewer with a jerky, staccato beat in counterpoint to the agile, elegant dance of "Follow." Its dizzying all-over jangle of six differently hued layers of squiggles set against a placid soft blue ground evokes the frenetic, ecstatic urges of that desperately awaited season. Impeccably executed — Hamrick's clear, crisp interweaving of multiple and opposing movements is more than a little mind-boggling — the jazzy, crazy quilt exuberance of "Spring Blue" after "Follow" testifies to the variegated rhythms that her charging lines and mutating patterns set in motion.

In a number of other images, the artist employs a diptych format; some of these are actual two panel units and others a single canvas divided vertically at midpoint. The faux seam of "Tangier," for example, wavers as the potent, insistent loops and curves begin, tentatively, to invade the opposite side. Instead of crowding the edges as in other compositions, they rush the centerline, initiating a transformative process on canvas akin to the disruptive effect of an exotic, faraway culture upon a settled, somnolent psyche.

Other titles imply yet more models of movement — "Blue Tumble" and "Wandering Gray Shade," for example — and even, in one instance, stasis: "Cluny 2" features a centralized, heraldic image, perhaps of a shield or seal, as an emblem for the eponymous medieval French monastery.

Albeit modest and decorous in scale, subtle, muted and refined in hue, and smooth and fluent in technique, Hamrick's oeuvre thrums with vitality. Animated and even antic at times, it is a tonic for all seasons. In these dead, gray months of the year, wayfarers should direct their feet to Hamrick's floor, where the steady, invigorating pulse of life and art beats strongly.

Dennis Alan Nawrocki writes about art for the Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.


Drawing in Space: An Installation by Sheila Pepe
and Weaving with Light and Shadow: Paintings by Janet Hamrick run through March 7 at Wayne State University's Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, 480 W. Hancock, Detroit; 313-993-7813.

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