Saturday, September 19, 2009

REVIEW: "Discarded and Salvage", Works by Muffin Ray at the Vermont Supreme Court

by Cully Renwick

The show takes its
name from two pieces that bear those stenciled words. They are actually warehouse labels for textile goods; both “discarded” and “salvage” textiles have very big markets in the world. But here the words, being presented as art, are ambiguous, allowing the viewer to be less literal. Ray herself doesn’t hesitate to make comparisons between the Odyssey of her life and that of the recycled textiles she works with.

In every piece the ideas of salvaging and re-purposing are obvious. Beautiful or plain, new or old, selected materials (pressed tin patterns, patchwork, upholstery, shipping bags, lace, quilt top) rough tough or dainty have been pasted down, cut up, thrown back together, and amber-varnished almost beyond recognition of what they once were. Yet each material maintains some important identity while becoming an element in a larger artwork.

These large scale collages and constructions show Ray’s confident application of paint and design elements. The painter’s practiced hand balances rough materials with motifs of oriental budding branches, (Bed, top left image) ancient-seeming veneer, paint, and textile surfaces to create powerful yet graceful works. Ray makes it look easy. The outcome is strong, harmonious, often very striking, and always entertaining in its details. The surfaces may be three-dimensional with protruding rough seam edges or globules of paint (close detail, Discard I, top right image, ) or varnished stitchery or running color. Some pieces celebrate the texture and weave of uncolored cloth, while others are saturated with paint in reds, yellows, ochers, and black (Bird, above left), a painted portion typically divided from a collaged section, varnish and running contrasting paint uniting all (Untitled, below right).

Ray’s selection process leaves us far, far from modern times. There is no shiny metallic cloth or hard-edged shape, no computer image. This is the frontier, the village, the reminiscence of ancient art--- in the hands of an expressionist. The big strongly colored wall hangings seem surprisingly warm to me, they are rich in detail without being noisy, and happy in color and imagery. One such painting could anchor a room like a hearth. Ray’s works are noble ends for her discarded and salvaged finds.

Muffin Ray’s work will be on display at the Vermont Supreme Court building in Montpelier through October 29. The Supreme Court building is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Closed Friday, October 2)