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Wonderful weave

laura sharp-wilson’s show at the black front gallery impresses

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I love the title of Laura Sharp-Wilson’s show at The Black Front Gallery: “You Are in the Weave Whether You Like It or Not.” That title fits beautifully with the look of Sharp-Wilson’s paintings — or the look of her paintings as seen in reproduction on the gallery Web site and the show announcement cards. The painting reproduced for the announcement is “One in Three Million Queens,” acrylic and graphite on paper mounted on a wood panel. In the reproduction there is a dull surface quality that makes it look like woven cloth with images sewn into the surface, a look that fits perfectly with the spiky, plantlike forms of her paintings.

The actual painting has a dull gloss that is equally intriguing but an entirely different look.

This and four other acrylic and graphite paintings in the show are simply wonderful. As are “The Torture of the Little White Flower,” watercolor and gouache on paper, and its companion piece, a sculpted paper wall hanging called “Headress for the Torture of the Little White Flower.”

Other works are less exciting. The four watercolors named after people — “Syd and Ann,” “Ruth Linn,” Ruthie” and “Jenny Reed” — are bland in comparison with Sharp-Wilson’s paintings, and the group of stacked tables near the back wall simply does not work in my opinion. The table piece is an interesting concept. It is called “Three Stacked Tables Based Roughly on the Dimensions of My Husband.” Apparently her husband is very tall. I’m not. I could not even see the painted tops of the top two tables, and those decorative tabletops seem to be the main feature of the piece. Perhaps the gallery should provide a ladder for viewing this one.

But back to the pieces that do work — the graphite and acrylic paintings. In these paintings, plants fight back. Spiked and barbed fronds and vines stand up against mankind’s destruction of nature. Nature is ominous and undeniable.

In the first painting mentioned above, barbed vines wind in and out and wrap themselves around forms that look to be some kind of sci-fi hybrid between the natural and the man-made. A gray vine and a white treelike form with ladderlike steps are tied together by a vine that looks like barbed wire while near the top of the picture a bladderlike form hovering in midair is being invaded by sprouting pink tentacles. On closer inspection, we see that the bladderlike form is actually a purple castle right out of a fairy tale.

That painting is one of a set of three small paintings. The other two in this grouping — “Truth is Not My Identity” and “Acid Flower for Dead Dave” — are not so densely packed with images. There is more breathing room between the plant forms. These two are distinguished by very sophisticated color choices. One has a wonderful combination of red and hot pink, and in the other, combinations of dusty rose and dull blues and greens employ a wonderful use of colors that are keyed to similar values and intensities. The finely detailed images are painted with precise brushwork in the Renaissance tradition.

Sharp-Wilson’s two larger paintings — “The I Want to be Somewhere Else Option” and “My Imaginary Clan” — are more akin to the first one in their use of densely packed, woven and interlocked forms that hover in shallow space.

From auxiliary materials in the gallery and from Googling the artist, I find that she has done a lot of paper sculptures that look so good in reproduction that I wish there were more in this show. The only one shown here is “Headress for the Torture of the Little White Flower,” a very delicate and finely crafted tissuelike form that is truly beautiful. When you look at this one, be sure to get up close and carefully inspect the fine detail.

[The Black Front Gallery, “You Are in the Weave Whether You Like It or Not” by Laura Sharp-Wilson, through July 31 Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., 106 Fourth Ave., Olympia, 360.786.6032,]

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