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Contemporary Craft artists create mashups of styles and materials | TribLIVE.com
Art & Museums

Contemporary Craft artists create mashups of styles and materials

The Associated Press
| Saturday, February 28, 2015 8:26 p.m
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Jason Walker Standing in the Grass, 2009
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Keith Lo Bue The Diary of an Antiquary , 2009
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Jason Walker Desert Frog, 2008
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Keith Lo Bue The Diary of an Antiquary , 2009
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'Celestial Objects Viewed with the Naked Eye' by Keith Lo Bue, ? 2005
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Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor Besot/Beset , 2014
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Keith Lo Bue Cupid's Revenge, 2003
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Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor Fever to Tell , 2014

It’s not often that an art exhibit can alter one’s perception of size, scope and scale.

But walking among Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor’s colossal creations, on display at Society for Contemporary Craft, that’s exactly what happens.

Five massive, funny, animal figures — some nearly 8 feet tall — seemingly parade through the gallery. Their gestural qualities, as well as their titles, such as “Wanna Do Right But Not Right Now” and “Fever to Tell,” allude to our basic human instincts and desires.

“She is all about how emotive these sculptures can be and what they are trying to project to people,” says Norah Guignon, Society for Contemporary Craft’s marketing manager.

Each is cobbled together from two-by-fours and discarded bedclothes, blankets and couch cushions. O’Connor procures all of the pieces from thrift stores in and around Sacramento, Calif., where she lives.

She builds these beasts by cutting, re-sewing, wrapping and tying layers upon layers of fabric and cardboard onto wooden armatures.

“She adds the arms last, and that’s what lets us know what these guys are trying to say, whether they are surprised, angry or upset,” Guignon says.

O’Connor is one of three artists who currently display their work in “Bridge 13,” Contemporary Craft’s biennial exhibit series begun in 1988 to heighten the public’s awareness of the powerful work being produced by contemporary artists, as well as to help break down the traditional barriers between the fields of craft and fine art.

A self-described “stuffsmith,” Keith Lo Bue creates jewelry from found objects that look so well put together, it’s like they’ve been that way forever.

Like O’Connor, Lo Bue is constantly on the lookout for unassuming stuff that will find new life as jewelry, whether it be lobster claws, hors d’oeuvres forks, antique book bindings, keys, leather, marbles — whatever he can find in and around Sydney, Australia, where the Virginia native has lived since 1999.

For example, a necklace titled “The Diary of an Antiquary” is a wearable book that includes such diverse elements as fresh-water pearls, pieces of unearthed glass, 19th-century book-cover fragments, antique ivory, feathers, pressed seaweed and gold leaf.

Even the tiniest of his 20 pieces on display is big on drama. The “Cupid’s Revenge” ring features a tiny drawing of a nose over pursed lips that can be seen through two lenses, one of which is a magnifying glass.

“A lot of his work requires you to look through a lens,” Guignon says. “Not that each works as a magnifying glass, but it’s more about that whole intimate experience of looking through a lens.”

As well-made as Lo Bue’s work is, Jason Walker’s well-crafted ceramic sculptures may have them beat.

Each of the eight pieces by him are a tour de force combining three-dimensional form with two-dimensional imagery, bringing together exquisitely painted narratives in which squirrels, birds and other living things are juxtaposed with manmade devices, such as lightbulbs, plugs and electrical conduit.

Walker, who currently lives and maintains a studio in Bellingham, Wash., makes work that underscores the impact of the manmade environment on nature’s own. That’s obvious in pieces like “Standing in the Grass,” a figural work of a deer with wicker legs and clear aquarium tubing coming out of its back.

Other works, like “Desert Frog,” combine natural threats with manmade ones, as in the portrait of a snake on one of the frog’s legs as opposed to a mouse on the other. It’s worth noting that each of the frog’s appendages is made to look like a plumbing fixture.

Some elements of each piece are sculpted, as in the plumbing pipes of the frog, and others are painted directly onto the porcelain bodies of each piece, as in the snake and mouse portraits.

“He etches and paints on the pieces, and you can see how intricate it is,” Guignon says.

But all of it melds together seamlessly to form powerful pieces that are rife with social commentary on American ideas of nature and how technology has changed our world.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

Categories: Museums
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