This juried exhibition might be surprising for those unfamiliar with Woman Made Gallery, an educational not-for-profit, now in its twenty-seventh year. Serving as juror for this exhibit, a well-seasoned gallerist, Melanee Cooper, selected thirty artists from over four-hundred submissions, with participants from every age group and from every part of the country. Some are leading professionals, while others are recent art-school grads. Most have been making art for several decades.
The overall feeling is one of gentle but lively repose. The stated theme is “Abstractly Speaking,” and indeed, none of the works are mimetic of the natural world. But many also don’t have much to do with speech or the investigation of language. Primarily, they seem to best serve as decorative highlights within a scheme of interior design. That’s probably due to the preferences of the juror, and certainly is not typical of shows in this gallery which have included themes like “The Power and Politics of Anger” (2015) and “Stronger Together” (2017).
One of the exceptions is a piece by Nina Ghanbarzadeh. Born in Tehran and now living in Wisconsin, her painting seems to represent a character in an unknown alphabet with something very important to say that will, regretfully, never be translatable. Another is an archival print by Darcy Gerbarg, a pioneer in computer graphics, and currently a visiting artist at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Made while the artist was wearing 3-D virtual reality goggles, it appears to be an exciting Abstract Expressionist painting from a distance. Up close, however, it feels more like a demonstration screen for digital graphics software. The full capability of multiple layers and textured brush tips are on display, but it feels less like an expressive painting and more like a digital toolbox. It would probably look better in cyberspace.
More typical is the work of Kelly Hensen, who has cut, carved and polished the cross-section of a tree trunk to produce a circular shape that is both like and unlike a flower. “My favorite time is to create things in my wood shop,” she has written about her work. “I love to use natural materials, like wood remnants, to combine them with metal or other components in order to create something new and unexpected.” Such work might be understood as an investigation into the semiotics of circular shapes or the interaction of human desire with natural processes. But most immediately, it serves as a pleasant and puzzling visual distraction on a plain white wall.
A variety of other materials is used by other artists, which also produces pleasant and unusual effects. The ones that most resemble geo-form paintings have the most formal energy. Consider Julie Henry’s lumbering rows of earth-color rectangles painted on strips of heavy burlap, Lisa Flowers’ colorful dynamic of stitched and dyed pieces of fabric or Kathleen Waterloo’s vibrant arrangement of luminous encaustic patches. The entire exhibit produces a peaceful, restorative and comforting effect on the spirit. (Chris Miller)
“Abstractly Speaking,” Woman Made Gallery, 2150 South Canalport, 4A-3, through April 27.