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Jack Edson , El Greco Portrait, 2015; cotton quilted fabric, 50 x 40 inches; Courtesy of the Artist

Jack Edson , El Greco Portrait, 2015; cotton quilted fabric, 50 x 40 inches; Courtesy of the Artist

A CRAFTY DISPLAY Amazing craftwork at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Artvoice

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

No end of strange and wonderful work in the current version Art in Craft Media show at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

In a prologue note to the show, curator Scott Propeak talks about how craft in recent years—as particularly seen in this show—has come into its own. How the conversation has shifted from the legitimacy of craft as fine art to “unapologetically celebrating” craft as a “medium of choice” of many fine artists.

It seems to have lost something in the process, however. Shed some attribute—or baggage—depending on one’s point of view. The old association with utility, usefulness. What distinguished the category from simply fine art. From painting, for example, or more to the point, sculpture. Purely aesthetic categories. Most of the work in the current show could as readily be included in a sculpture show. Whereas only a few of the items could have any conceivable utilitarian function. A few pieces of furniture. A few pieces of jewelry. A quilt, but much too fine and beautiful to ever use as a quilt.

But strange and wonderful nonetheless. Like the little statue of a falcon in mixed media on a stand of mechanical gearing and under a scant canopy of formed metal foliage, by Lynn Northrup. Another statue--pair of statues--is by Bill Stewart. Life-size human figures, but not quite human—more like aberrations of human—in dark ceramic and mixed media. One called The Trickster—it looks like a mix of Samurai warrior and Pinocchio with nose in extreme state—and one called The Elder’s New Socks, wearing rain boots and socks, but otherwise hard to describe. The Trickster’s girlfriend possibly.

Other sculptures not only not utilitarian in any ordinary—or maybe former ordinary—craft item sense, but not recognizable or identifiable as any known item even. Abstract, in other words. Such as Jozef Bajus’ Black Composition. Multiple layers of heavy black leather sheets with multiple rectangular cut-outs.

If the criterion for craft is just that the making required careful handwork, how does that make craft art different from the rest of the work in the gallery? What sculpture or painting on show didn’t require careful handwork in the making?

But all just to raise the question (supposing it’s an interesting question, in the context). The more important criteria are strange and wonderful. As notably in a work that is abstract but even conceivably functional. As a room divider. It’s in two sections of oxidized steel, perforation-patterned in a kind of Islamic art motif, and with semicircular cutouts in each section—so making a full circle, like a full moon, when the two sections are juxtaposed—studded in the inside of each semicircle with a line of inset tiny sapphires. Exquisite. The piece is by Carlos Caballero-Perez.

Nor is humor is neglected. Jeff Kell’s ceramic work amalgam of dog and bone statue and comical Greek vase. Or Jesse Ring’s elaborate double clothesline item with varicolored paper sheets hung as laundry. It’s calledYesterday.

Among the more spectacular items is Marcelo Florencio’s flame-worked-glass network basket containing one yellow glass statuette of a woman and numerous brown and clear glass small vials, each containing a little paper motto, like a Chinese fortune cookie message. Lines from old pop and rock songs mostly: “tall and tan and young and lovely,” “fever all through the night.”

Among other excellent works are Ani Hoover’s Rubber Garden of black blossoms fabricated out of old bicycle tire tubes; Mahlon Huston’s exploded-view illustration on how to construct the intricate and elaborate woodwork and glass frame framing the illustration; Stephen Merritt’s handsome large-bellied pipe-spout terra-cotta floor vase; Yasmin Medina’s spidery sterling silver and bronze and gems Fungi Brooch.

The quilt too beautiful and fine to use as a quilt is by Jack Edson. It’s called El Greco Portrait and mimics in fabric one of that artist’s oil paintings.

The Art in Craft Media exhibit continues through January 24, 2016.