Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Beautiful weaving in Santa Fe

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Now to the fun part. . . last Friday night I had the pleasure of attending the opening of Polly Barton's new show of fiber work, Dare, Revel, Dive, at Chiaroscuro gallery in Santa Fe.   Today I returned to the gallery for a second look.  I stopped by in the middle of a series of errands I was doing around town, and the visit made for a quiet oasis in a busy day. 

The title Dare, Revel, Dive refers to the three distinct bodies of work that make up the show.  Dare describes four large ikat-dyed handwoven hangings. I have long admired Polly's ikat work and her mastery of the technique is evident. In these banners she pushes it by incorporating unusual materials (copper wire) and by explicitly referencing political themes in the red-white-and-blue color palettes of two of the banners. These are pieces whose strong graphic impact hits you across the room and whose exquisite details draw you closer.  In Polly's hands, the bound-resist threads of ikat become a gestural, expressive move that tests and expands the woven grid.  

Polly Barton, Live Wire, 2020.  64.5" x 31.5".
Silk warp ikat,  pigment, copper wire weft

Polly Barton, Thicket, 2018.  64.5" x 31.5". 
Silk double ikat with additional dye

The Dive pieces are most similar to the work of Polly's I have so enjoyed in the past--subtly dyed and blended ikat abstractions that glow.  This time, the glow comes from metal leaf applied to the back of the pieces, where it glints through the weave.  It can be tempting to overdo metallic effects in fiber art (I've been there!) but Polly deftly avoids that.  Another interesting thing about these pieces is that they are woven with fine linen paper thread; on the gallery site Polly refers to "weaving my own paper."  The mostly dark and deep tones with the flicker of silver or gold exert a mysterious and contemplative pull that reminds me of the paintings of Mark Rothko.  Polly describes in poetic detail on her own website the inspiration for the arced forms and layered color of these pieces--I urge you to go there and read about them in her own words. 

Polly Barton, Kaiwase Blue, 2021,
handwoven linen paper and mixed media, 18.25" x 16.25" 

The Revel pieces are three large grids of nine sheets of paper that is saturated with pastel pigments.  These pieces are joyous immersions in pure color.  A few hint at the landscape, perhaps, or at atmospheric effects in New Mexico skies, but I think that searching for a reference to the visible world is ultimately beside the point.  The point is to bask--revel--in gorgeous color.  

Polly Barton, Revel III, 2021, pastel on paper
54" x 34"

While these pieces of paper might stand on their own, they gain in impact by being set together in the 3 x 3 grid.  Narrow white margins between the papers accentuate the beautifully irregular edges of the paper and set off the purity of the pigments.  

Polly Barton, detail Revel III, 2021, pastel on paper
54" x 34"

One leaves a show like this sighing with satisfaction that such refinement of dyeing and weaving technique, such expressive use of color and dedicated exploration of new possibilities over decades of studio practice, show what fiber art can be.