By Mary Mueller
In a world that is constantly updating its technology, minimizing gadgets and expanding information, it can be hard to shed all of the fluff and get back to basics. We click around on Photoshop and Sparknotes while our paintbrushes and paperbacks gather dust. Point-and-shoot digital cameras have replaced the chemicals and film of the dark room. Hell, all of the artwork in the Louvre is at your fingertips with a simple Google search.
The latest exhibition at Gallery S.P.A.C.E. reminds us of the merit of more classic techniques with the work of artists Ruth Sykes and Urban Jupena. Sykes uses pen and colored pencils to create intricate, harmonious renderings and Jupena explores the age-old practice of weaving in an array of modern-day themes.
Sykes takes simple ideas, processes and materials and makes them foreign, unusual and compelling. Her mixed media drawings combine organic and geometric shapes, contrasting innumerable parallel lines with flowing curves reminiscent of a flower. Confident, straight lines with sharp edges contrast with sweeping, purely organic spirals and swirls. Against such care and attention to detail, the beautifully shaded hues look more like they were drawn with expensive watercolor paints rather than colored pencils.
At first glance, the drawings can seem almost computer-generated, with perfect precision in minute spaces. However, if you lean close, you can see slight pools of ink that splurge over the edges. These tiny “errors” of the human hand add an essential real, personal feeling to the drawings, reminding us that they were not created by zeros and ones but by focused concentration and passion.
There is no focal point in most of the pieces — your eye is free to discover the drawing at its leisure, following one line to the next, each color to its complement. The consecutive lines create immeasurable depth and movement, as the forefront and background constantly switch places. These different planes reveal glimpses of abstract worlds and dreamscapes; peaceful, plush lands that betray none of the worries of everyday life. You want to thrust your hand into the drawing, feel its twigs and flowers, wood grain and yarn.
Though none of the drawings depict a specific subject matter, all of them have an inherently natural, organic quality rooted in the geometric lines.
Like Rorschach inkblots, each drawing reveals something new and particular to each viewer. They may remind you of rolling, cool waves or leaves and stems rocking in the breeze. You may see twigs and flowers, wood grain and coast lines. Each piece bursts with a quiet, constant motion like a flower in bloom.
Although Sykes’ drawings vary in size, shape, and color, they are all connected by the same meditative, soothing quality created by mandalas and sand painting.
And while Sykes’ work is fully open to interpretation with no clear subject matter, Urban Jupena’s tapestry weavings tell definitive stories — be it a swimmer plunging into ice-cold water, a wildfire destroying a forest, or a pet dog resting in the grass.
Jupena teases us with these quick peeks at narrative, invoking countless questions. Who is the swimmer? How did the fire start? What is that dog eating?
He uses mixed media to provide telling textual details within his stories. For a particularly furry tree or to create the soft coat of a dog, he switches to a fuller, more velvety yarn that literally sticks off of the tapestry. Viewers can practically feel the various surfaces on their fingertips.
To create the sparkling bubbles of water, Jupena sews in tiny clear beads that shimmer and reflect the light. The colors he uses perfectly capture the way light reflects off of the sea, as rainbow spectrums ripple in the fresh, inviting water. The swimmers definitely take the background to the water, which in many ways seems more alive than the figures.
One particularly standout piece is “The Color Red,” which echos the passion of Dante’s Inferno, with layer upon layer of fire and smoke that seems to billow off of the tapestry. Jupena’s use of color is stunning— complementary hues seem to spring the colors off of the walls, transforming them into strange and unfamiliar shades off of our color spectrum.
Perhaps the most remarkable piece is the trio, dubbed “Blaze of Glory,” is split into three weavings: “The Prologue,” “The Fire,” and “The Afterglow.”
These striking renderings make you feel as if you’re watching the aurora borealis. As amethyst and lavender shades dominate the sky, a scorching fire grows below, reducing the spindly trees into trembling black skeletons, waving precariously before they fall. The fire seems all powerful, unstoppable, breathing blue, orange and red across the landscape. In the last panel, a haze of smoke shows the ghostly remnants of the aftermath, looming like dusty apparitions.
The work of Ruth Sykes and Urban Jupena at S.P.A.C.E. are a must-see, and with a free entrance until the show ends on April 27, there is no reason to miss it. This exhibit might give you a new perspective when you pull those old colored pencils and thread out from storage.Contact Mary Mueller.