Wu Jian’an’s enormous Masks are made from buffalo hide, painted with baking varnish and acrylic. In using the whole animal hide, the artist is creating a work out of whole cloth. Although these works originate in a different cultural context, seen here in the context of the American Southwest, they perhaps recall the legendary herds of buffalo that roamed the Great Plains, stretching across the horizon, and even more so, the use of buffalo hides as a medium of craft and exchange, first by Native Americans and then by U.S. settlers moving westward. Similarly, Wu Jian’an’s artwork may suggest something of the mythic and totemic qualities of the buffalo as a great prize for big game hunters, in common with those of great animals across all cultures (lions, tigers, bears). Formed into masks, the hides suggest the way that hunters have always revered such animals for their strength and courage.
However, Wu Jian’an’s use of baking varnish and his color palette, sharply distinguish these artworks from the traditional and mythic contexts described above. The bright and artificial colors in Mask — Purple Jade, Mask — Wisteria Yellow, and Mask — Violet Red (all from 2018) are more closely associated with modern urban pop culture, while the torn, ragged edges of the material suggests rock-and-roll or biker fashion, a powerful, raw intensity. The artist duo, Material Lust, employ the ‘whole cloth,’ stretching their material across frames and turning their raw material into designed sculptures. The familiar, yet unsettling, quality of Material Lust’s work is aptly captured by Sigmund Freud’s concept of the unheimlich (literally “unhomely”), usually translated
Brian Scott Campbell’s use of the flashe vinyl paint medium, essentially drawing with paint, addresses the surface as a ‘whole cloth.’ In Campbell’s works, there is a constructive contrast between the idyllic, natural settings depicted and the schematic, geometrical style of drawing. In some of the works, such as Wheel and Breakfast (both 2019), the trees are defined by thick black outlines, painted with an ingenuous spontaneity that recalls Keith Haring’s adaptations of comic style; and the landscape itself is rendered in a simplified, schematic form that gives the scenes a fictional or imaginary quality. Other paintings, such as Turning In and Two Horses (2019), have tall trees, close in front on both the left and the right, tightly framing the center of the picture, which recedes into the distance. The resulting effect is like looking out a window. Meanwhile, Turning In and For Robert (also 2019) both center a broad, concentrated expanse of dark gray-blue water in a geometrically simplified and regular composition and an almost a hieroglyphic sense of flatness and order.
The diverse works in WHOLE CLOTH explore an astounding range of themes and references. Yet, whether in the form of landscape painting, buffalo hide masks, or hybrid art-design objects, the heart and soul of the artists come through in each piece. The mastery and dedication of the artists is communicated in their individual works and in the exhibition as a whole: the integrity and authenticity of the ‘whole cloth.’