Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cyanotype on parade

I was in Memphis last week and visited Crosstown Concourse, an exciting new residential/commercial/community development built inside an old Sears distribution center.  And was pleasantly surprised to find fiber art on display in one of the gallery spaces.  John Pearson, an artist who has apparently taken pains to make sure we can find out nothing about him on the internet except that he went to school at Cal Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, showed a dozen cyanotype prints on fabric.

They're big -- the largest one is more than eleven feet tall and seven feet wide.  Most of them were seamed vertically down the center before being set out in the sunshine with stones or palm fronds laid on top to make a resist against the sunlight. 

The cyanotype process requires the fabric or paper to be soaked in a cyanide-derivative solution, dried, and then exposed to light.  Where the light strikes, it develops as deep blue pigment; everywhere that was masked out is left the original color.  The one piece that Pearson made onto red and white striped fabric was the most striking of the show.

The others were made onto plain white, yielding more subdued compositions.

 (detail below)

I found the pieces beautiful and intriguing, but I thought they suffered from the same existential dilemma that faces many of us who do surface design.  You make a beautiful piece of fabric, but then what?  On the one hand, you don't want to cut it up into little bits for piecing or collage, because you will lose the gorgeous sweep of color and design that makes the big piece beautiful.  But on the other hand, if you just pin it up on the wall, or turn it into a whole-cloth quilt or hanging, is it art yet?  Or does it need something else, and if so, what?

I thought these would benefit from something else, not that I have any brilliant ideas about what that something might be.

One last thing that I loved -- these works are described as "soft photographs."  I've never seen this locution before but it's certainly appropriate!

The show continues through November 25 at Crosstown Arts East Gallery, 1350 Concourse Avenue in Memphis.  If you go, make sure to take some extra time to poke around and appreciate the huge complex of buildings.


  1. I m always amazed at the effect these techniques create and wonder how the technique was even created. I imagine the artist think of the fabrics they create the same way we do of the favorite fabrics we buy and don't want to snip into.
    xx, Carol

  2. For me, yes, it is art! I co-curated this exhibition, Lay of the Land, with Brian Pera, so perhaps I am biased. It is a curious question what we all expect or want from art. I ask many things of art. Sometimes for me it is enough if a work sparks my curiosity, charms me, or befuddles me. John Pearson's large cyanotypes have an exuberant energy that transport me emotionally to a exciting and yet peaceful place. To stand closely in front of one of the larger pieces, I feel a spectacular vibration from the intense blue color combined with the pale ghost of the now absent palm frond. It is a similar feeling I have when standing in front of a Mark Rothko painting, a sense that all of my questions are answered and I am being given a healing. Rather than demanding answers and satisfaction of some kind, I feel as though I am being given something strong and meaningful that has to do with experience rather than language. Coupled with the smaller black and white photographs that deal with light and materials and also the intriguing videos (Sunset Circuit accompanied with a sound piece by artist Gabie Strong), the exhibition works together on many levels to show a diversity and range of experimentation and process.