Friday, December 4, 2015

Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace at MOG

 A Glass Menagerie

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 3, 2015

“Alphabet of Flowers,” glass, by Joey Kirkpatrick (and Flora C. Mace Photo courtesy of the artists
Seattle-based artists Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace have been working collaboratively for almost 40 years, and in that time they have compiled a major body of work that can be seen for the first time in a career-spanning exhibition. 
Their collaboration started at Pilchuck Glass School in 1979. Their first works grew out of Mace's desire to incorporate Kirkpatrick's delicate line drawings on paper as surface design on blown cylinders. Kirkpatrick made elaborate drawings in bent wire that were colored in with glass cane. These drawings were then "picked up" onto the vessel in the hot shop. From this beginning they have amassed a huge repertory of glass, drawing, and mixed-media sculptural work. Much of it is astonishingly inventive and marked by deep understanding of human and animal interactions, inventive use of language and daring mixtures of media.
Some of the work, however — such as the many drawings of birds and flowers — are so common, trite, and devoid of the kind of innovation and graphic sensitivity that marks the rest of their work, that it is hard to believe they were done by the same artists or that the? Museum of Glass deemed them worthy of inclusion in a major museum exhibition. Compare the wire and wood drawings of birds such as “Woodland Voices” or the dramatic “Owl and Wren” with the lesser “Ten Birds,” graphite and casein on paper. It’s like comparing Pablo Picasso with John James Audubon. One is art; the other is note taking. The rest of the work in this large show is brilliantly conceived and skillfully executed. There is an abundance of humor and an obvious love of nature and facility with materials.
The introduction to the large and impressive exhibition catalog says that Kirkpatrick “drives a concept through drawings, while Mace’s signature adeptness with hand tools  … allows the pair to realize their idea through groundbreaking processes.” The comingling of the two makes for work more outstanding than probably either could do alone.
I am personally enamored of Kirkpatrick’s drawing, be it on paper or glass. It reminds me a lot of drawings by Picasso and Matisse. There is crispness and economy to her line and a wonderfully staccato quality that I admire.
Their series of tiny, translucent human heads atop long cylinders or tubes of glass are surrealistic and haunting. The birds and other animals and human figures drawn in space — either set on sculptural plinths of hung on walls where they cast webs of shadows — are innovative and beautiful. Their giant glass apples and pears and paint brushes in glasses that stand anywhere from three to five feet tall are like slick and brilliantly colored versions of Claes Oldenburg sculptures. Their human torsos minus heads and extremities made of tree limbs and often combined with glass objects such as their translucent heads or elegant glass vessels contain shades of the great surrealist sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Human bodies become cages.
The variety of imagery and the fecundity of ideas in this show is astounding. I find it amazing that Kirkpatrick and Mace are not more well-known and that it has taken so long for them to be given a major survey exhibition.
Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace, Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through May 15, 2016, $12-$15, members free, Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock Street Tacoma.

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