A compendium of craft masquerading as art, art masquerading as craft, and craft extending its middle finger.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Recovery of Roy



If you look at the artwork of Chris
Roberts-Antieau
in passing, or through squinted eyes, you might just walk
on by. Her work is slick and friendly--images that would be at home in your
Mother's sewing room predominate. There are plenty of pictures of pets and other
animals, mermaids, and domestic activities like working in the flower garden.
I encountered her work at FolkFest last weekend, and I'm glad that I took a
moment to look deeper. Roberts-Antieu used to create "wearable art",
embellished garments that sold in pricy boutiques and stores like Neiman marcus.
The burdens of conducting a staff of fifteen and scrambling to fill orders burnt
her out quickly, so she turned to creating large scale fabric art. First of
all, her work is exactingly crafted. Roberts-Antieu hunts for unusual fabrics,
then uses applique and machine stitching to compose her pieces, finishing them
up with hand embroidery. The machine stitching forms unwavering borders between
the pieces of fabric, creating a very graphic comic book effect.


The comic metaphor is apt, because she crams many of her pieces with wry, funny
details, as in The
Magic of Interpretive Dance
, which shows a variety of adults lost in spastic
reverie. Pop culture moments don't escape her grasp either, as in Oprah's
Big Audience Giveaway
, where a larger-than-life Oprah presides, preacher-like,
over a flock of adherents who lift their hands to the sky in excitement. Characters
in the paintings are often grappling with relationships with friends and significant
others, and mirror our emotional lives as much as they do pop culture. In the
painting Bad
Habits
, figures grapple not only with habits like smoking and procrastination,
but they are shown grappling with the social effects of those habits on the
people that they love. In Tangled
Leashes
, a group of dog walkers struggle to untangle their canine counterparts
and Roberts-Antieu delights in creating a variety of interactions worthy of
Leonardo's Last Supper.


Far and away, though, is my favorite piece, The
Recovery of Roy
, a deliciously nasty piece that depicts the mauling of the
Roy (of Siegfried and Roy) by his white tiger. This piece actually becomes a
narrative broken into panels like a comic book, with the first panel showing
Roy in the jaws of a tiger, spilling the drinks of a terrified lady with a beehive
hairdo in the audience. Roy is then carried away on a stretcher, then shown
recovering with a concerned nation wishing him well. Finally, Siegfried and
Roy make peace with the errant tiger as the sun shines down on them (and their
mullets). There is a fantastic economy in the way emotions and interactions
are crammed into the cartoon-like figures. I got to view the Siegfried and Roy
piece in person at FolkFest, and I spent a lot of time marvelling at all of
the love and delight that have been snuck into the pieces. There are details
like hand-painted frames and hand embroidered embellishments that take the work
to the next level. She'll be showing
her work
at craft-related events in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Washington
D.C. this year, but maybe it's time for the art world to start perking up their
ears. LINK

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