You are going to see a lot of fiber art during the next two months.
That's because the Tampa Bay area is hosting Convergence, an international conference sponsored by the Handweavers Guild of America from June 22 to 28, and local museums and galleries are welcoming its estimated 5,000 participants with exhibitions in that medium.
The most recent example is at the Arts Center, which opened two group shows of fiber artists and another showcasing the work of Laura Militzer Bryant.
Bryant hasn't shown much in recent years, concentrating on her burgeoning business of selling top-drawer, hand-dyed yarns. It's good to see her complex, luminous weaving back on gallery walls.
Most are coupled with painted wood backings and surrounds that create optical illusions when viewed from a distance. Shadow's Edge, Land's Edge and Beyond the Blue are stunning explorations of nuanced tones running from cool to warm. Stand 10 feet from them and the fiber components seem to float. Up close you see they are densely worked and completely opaque. The Crossings series are woven grids whose colors flow into the paint on the surrounding wood panels and extend the illusion of a single image. Very effective is Bryant's use of metallic threads to simulate transparency and mirror the shimmer of metallic paint.
A change of pace
After that serenity, be prepared for a big jolt in an opposite gallery. Olecranon is a huge installation by Olek, a native of Poland, now living in New York. She crochets. Don't expect antimacassars. Think a fiber version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And, rhetorically, ask the question: What can't be crocheted? Looking at the riot of materials she uses in large tents and hanging orbs, you probably can't name a single thing. There's also a ladder covered completely in nubby red yarn. Some small appliances. A partial torso descending from the ceiling. A full body suit crocheted from deflated balloons. It's colorful, inventive and, most of all, fun. She brackets everything with two huge tapestries crocheted with cryptic messages. The title of the work, by the way, is the name of an elbow bone that the artist likes because it sounds like her name. Don't try to figure it out; just marvel at the wonderful audacity of this vision.
Everything else is, unfortunately, overshadowed by these two artists. Olek is apparently part of a three-artist show titled "Practical to Poetic," also featuring Tamar Stone and Jenny Hart, but the connection between Olek and the latter artists is tenuous. Stone creates "books," using vintage materials she machine-embroiders with text gleaned from old sources, such as advertisements and diaries. The four here read like feminist screeds. A doll bed is dressed with layers like a real bed — spread, quilt, blanket, sheets, pillowcase and sham. The pillow, or "book cover," is embroidered with the work's title, It's Where I am Now, and subsequent layers contain a narrative about women's struggle to reconcile their various roles. I didn't see any of those layers, because the bed was made and viewers can't mess it up. That's a nice metaphor, but annoying to people who want to see the art rather than imagine it.
Anyway, it's sweet and pretty, as are Hart's embroidered panels. Like Stone, she cuts the sweetness with tart subject matter. Marianne Faithfull is a worshipful, almost schmaltzy portrait of the 1960s rock singer in her youthful, doe-eyed beauty. But she is surrounded by teardrops. Obvious: Her big hit was As Tears Go By. But there's something compelling about it, the homey way it's worked with simple stitches in comparison to the hard, bright and corrupted glamor of most celebrity.
Salsa for everyone
"Salsa y Salsa" is the third exhibition at the Arts Center, a group show juried by Joan Michaels Paque, a respected multimedia artist and member of the Handweavers Guild of America. The title, according to wall text, refers to "the spicy spectrum of saturated color influenced by Florida and the Caribbean" that was not evident in much of the work. Paque's statement in the catalog indicates subtle frustration with the choices she had among the submissions. Some of it is frankly amateurish. (I love that nonprofessionals find art a satisfying means of self-expression, but I don't think this show was meant to be in that category.) There are some notable works. I liked, for example, the vibrant swish of Deborah Kruger's avian-inspired wall sculptures and Dorothy McGuinness' interpretation of a rooster in paper and linen.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.