Sunday, January 23, 2011

REVIEW: Holly Walker and Bhakti Ziek at the Chandler Gallery in Randolph

by Dian Parker

Making art and viewing art are about seeing. Both the artist and viewer learn how to see through practice. "It is a consummation devoutly to be wished" (Shakespeare), and certainly is neither swift nor easy -- the artist and the viewer must learn to take risks. It’s a free fall into the unknown. Both artist and viewer risk not liking the finished product. Or falling in love with it.

At the Chandler Gallery through February 20 is a two person show – Holly Walker’s Haptikos and Bhakti Ziek’s Continuum. Here is an opportunity to "see" the work of two accomplished Randolph artists who are stretching themselves beyond what they had done before. Both took risks and it paid off.

Holly Walker is a ceramicist, working in clay for 32 years. Here you will not find pottery turned on a wheel. Walker’s technique is a process of pinching layers of earthenware clay into coils, then layering the coils to build form. The results are bowls, platters, vessels, urns, jars, and pots that can all be used in the kitchen. The platters are so lovely they could also hang on your living room wall (each fastened with a stainless steel wire for hanging). The step jars could stand outdoors beside a stand of lilies (bringing them in, of course, during the winter). Her work is sculpture, urging you to stroke and carry. Just looking at the work one gets endless ideas for ways to use these durable, dynamic works of art. A center piece on your dining room table. Soup tureens. Sculptures in the entryway of your house. The tiered jar in your kitchen as a vegetable peel container.

Walker’s work moves, it is active. She said, "I approach the surface of the pot as a painter, brushing colored slips over the raw terracotta surface, layering multiple glazes through bisquing." One can see her process in the work, all the way back to the original clay peeking through the glaze, around the rim or underneath. Inside many of the vessels is a deep iron glaze which offers depth and a cradle for your delicious goods or precious gems. The outside colors are rich – lime green, deep rusted red, bold turquoise, cobalt blue. Haptikos, the title of her show, is Greek for "haptic" which means the sense of touch. I wanted to pick up every piece and stroke it, feeling the pressure her thumbs had made in the moist clay; still visible, still pulsing.

(pictured at right), 11.5 x 7.25 x 14"h, is one of Walker’s pieces that could be used for many things; fruit, soup, hidden treasures, center piece or as a sculpture. Its 4 tiered lid is white with a swath of bright brick red down the center; the base is glazed in coral, warm white and rose red. A more delicate piece is Rectangular Step JarSix-Lobed Disk: Twig (seen above), 11.5" diameter x 3" high, in lime green and creamy white. It looks fragile but as in all her work it is sturdy and durable. An oval platter looks like a lyre; a bowl looks like a sleigh or a baby’s cradle, a rectangular platter is made of many different slips of color - imagine putting a cherry in each square or a dollop of sushi! Holly Walker’s work is unique and playful – a delight to look at and use.

Bhakti Ziek has been a weaver since 1969, known for her exploration of woven technology that ranges from the simplest backstrap looms to state-of-the-art electronic digital equipment. Her work is cerebral, intricate and densely woven. She shows many facets of the world in her work – stars, blossoms, shadows, sacred geometry, a house, even the mathematical computations required for her weavings. Except for her piece, "Nomad", all the work is woven with 60 vertical threads per inch on the loom (the warp) and an average of 140 horizontal threads per inch (the weft) - a mind boggling concept. Ziek’s work portrays multi leveled narratives of her inner world as if she were weaving her brain’s hologram into a 3 dimensional form. How she is able to weave so many perfect circles is as impressive as the scope of her work in this show. So many stories, so many thoughts and ideas charted through a course of one year of intensive work. She calls this current body of work Continuum representing one thread becoming 880 threads – one continuous line, a continuous thread.

In her piece, Walking (left; click on image for a larger view), 13.5" x 49", Ziek has woven together 6 panels of different mental narratives. In the detailed dense patterns of 5 panels, one can find numbers, words, flowers, a circle collage, grids in shades of blue, ochre and grey. The largest panel is the bluest. It is the sky. Combined with the density of the other panels, one feels a sense of uplift, of openness, an urge to stop thinking for a moment, to look out and to breathe deep. It is made with silk, tencel, bamboo, silver metal gimp, hand-woven lampas and weft-backed jacquard. One can only marvel at the dexterity and intensity this work must require.

There is humor too, as in Focused Distraction, 20" x 26". On one panel, against a background of lovely flower petals, is a white pentagram with words on each tip, marking the many daily transgressions - Email, Website, Blog, Facebook, Solitaire. The other panel represents the many choices Ziek has as an artist - digital, handmade, contemporary, historical. Continuum, (pictured below), 13.5" x 47.5"w, is one of her prettiest pieces, 4 panels of a striking delicious pink, with the largest panel of white on pink looking like dendrites in the brain. It is textured, the intersecting weaves revealing the volume of silk used. Nomad, her largest piece, is 6 vast panels, 60" x 164", covering an entire wall of the gallery. It is a formidable piece displaying in words all the places Ziek has ever lived - Turkey, Kansas, New Mexico, Canada, Europe, Guatemala, Haiti, Southeastern Asia, New York. It is another mindscape, capturing her many lives as a weaver and teacher and thinker. Ziek’s greatest influence comes from the Persian Safavid - court weavers from 1501. Her work even looks like the maps of the Persian Empire from that time!

Both artists are giving hands-on demonstrations at the gallery. Bhakti Ziek’s is Sunday, January 30, at 1 pm. Holly Walker’s is Sunday, February 13, at 1 pm. These are wonderful opportunities to explore their working methods and to ask questions.

Art takes time to "see" because it takes the artist time to make the work. Energy begets energy. Be generous when you view art - open yourself to the mystery of seeing the mind of an artist in material form. If you focus on the work, the return will always be awe; even if you did not at first think you would like the work. The work in this show is not safe. Both artists took risks in order to create work that is dynamic and powerful. I could have stayed in the gallery the entire afternoon. As it was, I was there for 3 hours. And that was the second time.

Images (all photos by Michael Sacca):

Holly Walker, Large Six-Lobed Disk: Twig, 2010, Terracotta, slab, pinched coils, hand painted slips and glazes, inlaid glaze, 11.5" diameter x 3"h, tabletop or wall mount

Holly Walker, Rectangular Step Jar, 2010, Terracotta, slab, pinched coils, hand painted slips and glazes, 11.5" x 7.25" x 14"h

Bhakti Ziek, Walking, 2010, 13.5"h x 49"w, silk, tencel, bamboo, silver metal gimp; handwoven lampas and weft-backed jacquard

Bhakti Ziek, Continuum, 2010, 13.5"h x 47.5"w, silk, tencel, bamboo; handwoven lampas jacquard