Meredyth Sparks works with materials in a process she calls “extraction” and it is compelling, even if her painting seems appropriated, but the class connotations of the wallpapers, furniture fabric and basement windows she uses in her constructions bring to mind another kind of materialism. There is dissonance and disjunction between the people who would have lived with the materials Sparks so carefully photographs or stitches together (they are generally outmoded and hence nostalgic), and the art-world audience who will view the work. Taking domestic objects out of context is part of her process of extraction and calling attention to these largely feminine lower-middle-class emblems, blue British garden scenes, hunting dogs, mallard ducks and knobby brown fabric, evoke a specific social context. It is difficult to ignore the connotations of the materials and dwell on Sparks’ estimable formalism: do these allusions to the lower-middle-class evoke failure, aspiration, neatness, security, memories or an abstraction of everyday life? Should we hold them in derision or do they constitute a sly critique of distinction?
One small grisaille painting—the exhibition consists of a set of paintings and a larger room of constructions, which include painting, fabric, wood—based on a photograph of a room has the contemplative quality of a Vermeer until one notices that glowing light falls from a window cut out to reveal the structure of the canvas and stretchers that support the image of a computer on a desk next to an unmade bed—a very modest workspace. A variety of screens, vertical blinds, lattice patterns and other meaning-laden obstructions to vision heighten the tension between subject and process. Likewise, the contrast between mass-produced materials and the handmade quality of her own constructions adds to the challenging play of ideas as does a possible nod to distant relatives Picasso and Braque: her painted faux wood textures and lattice patterns may refer to the origins of collage. (Janina Ciezadlo)
Through May 4 at The Arts Club of Chicago, 201 East Ontario.