Early in September, while visiting our daughter in northern Colorado, I enjoyed a gallery hopping day in Denver with friend Regina Benson who herself was exhibiting “Water Marks” at The Ice Cube Gallery. Sharing the gallery with Regina was Ray Tomasso, whose recent collection of cast archival paper was titled “Memories of An Ancient Sea”. This gallery will be closing next year as the space has become financially unfeasible to the artists who lease it; and so that relationship could be said to be ‘melting’, perhaps. Maybe it was no coincidence that both these fibre artists gave watery titles to their exhibitions connecting water and landscape.
In her home state Colorado and the other western states, issues of water usage, entitlements, over-usage, conservation of water resources and naturally occurring drought spells mean water is a serious public issue. In this collection of textile installations and paintings, Regina explores environmental, social and historical issues surrounding the abundance and scarcity of water, finding inspiration along coastal shores where she often dives, and inland landscapes that satellite imagery shows to have been shaped and scarred by water that long ago disappeared leaving ‘stark cracked surfaces with darkened paths of long gone water’.
Regina’s work is frequently dimensional, and often to the extent that the viewer can physically enter and wander through her created environment – this time a large group of jelly fish hovering near the entrance as if in water that demanded my immersion! Delicate and floaty, hovering at the end of very fine fishing line, they responded to the slightest air current around them, in a very convincing ‘watery’ way.
From a gallery card “She creates an environment for visitors to pass around and between rivers, sea sides, and tide pools; sometimes imagined at a distance, sometimes immersed in depths, and sometimes revealed only in the cracked dry beds of past waterfalls and eddies.” Other works were less dimensional, and perhaps half were flat against the wall but they were no less watery.
Below is a multi panel one I particularly loved, ‘Baltic Seaside’ for which she does not specify whether the inspiration is from an actual dive visit or something from her childhood revisited. Here dry grasses in soft sand dunes filter fading daylight as the water views beyond the grass blend into nightfall.
Dry river beds in Arizona and northern Mexico are similar to images received by NASA of patterns left on the surface of Mars by long disappeared flowing water on that planet’s surface. Those reports and Regina’s observations while flying over the drying South West led to a wonderful piece titled “Dry Spell”. Perhaps best of all the pieces in the exhibition, this textile rendering of a worn, dry, rocky surface using dyes, stitch markings and quilting demonstrates Regina’s ability to observe natural phenomena and present their essence in textile and fibre art.
Now to the work of Ray Tomasso, whose recent collection of cast archival paper casts was titled “Memories of An Ancient Sea”. ‘Cast’ of course implies dimension, and these panels, while flattish, each protrude several inches from the wall plane.
Ray Tomasso “South Sea Odyssey” 40″ x 58″ x 7″
Ray Tomasso “Aground On A Shoal” 68″ x 90″ x 6′
I had not previously known of Ray’s work, and found it spoke to me of archeological material, such as unearthed decaying man-made materials on an excavated rubbish dump site, or along edges of dried up lakes or seabeds, such as Lake Baikal. (as suggested by the exhibition title) Certainly textural details in places suggest rivets or drill holes, and ragged edges might allude to some violent, catastrophic end event having taken place and been preserved in fine mud. In total his work has an appealing air of industrial decay, and I loved it.
Explore his website for insights into his process, and the eco-friendly aspects of his materials.