Layered and Embellished Trapunto Paintings Exude Spirit in Pacita Abad’s First Retrospective
Having created more than 5,000 paintings in her lifetime, traveled the world, and shown in over 200 exhibitions, Pacita Abad (1946-2004) was one of the most prolific and lauded Filipina-American artists. Now on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, her first retrospective showcases over 100 of her bold, distinctive works.
Abad was born in Basco, Batanes, the northernmost province of the Philippines. As her parents were politicians, the young artist initially had the aspirations of following in their diplomatic footsteps, and she avidly organized student demonstrations against the authoritarian Marcos regime, which eventually led to the political persecution of both Abad and her family. To escape this unrest and find security, her parents urged her to move overseas.
During what was initially a pit stop in California, Abad’s amazement with the unencumbered vibrancy and freedom of expression in San Francisco acted as a catalyst for her abundant life-long career. Informed by her experiences with despotism, political refuge, and immigration, Abad began to create work underscoring these disquietudes.
The years that followed involved travel, living in a number of different countries, and connecting with creative communities in every hemisphere. Abad was able to learn artistic techniques from different cultures and gather materials from diverse environments, which she would later incorporate into her own practice, especially her mask painting series.
Along the gallery’s pink walls at the Walker, hand-stitched meandering lines run across canvas hanging more than two meters high. Though it was not Abad’s intention for her art to be seen from both sides, viewers are able to experience her work in a more intimate way by observing the artist’s hand, evident from the delicate stitching on each backside. Part of her signature trapunto painting technique, these sewn sections of canvas puff up with padding as geometric patterns house vibrant areas of color. Calling to Africa’s masks and abstract carving, Tibet’s Thangka tapestries, and Italy’s trapunto techniques, Abad’s series of masks are a conglomeration of community encounters as well as real stories of strength and strife inspired by those that she met along the way.
Abad’s retrospective is on view at the Walker Art Center until September 3. Later this month, Tina Kim Gallery in New York will be showcasing Abad’s work in a solo exhibition, as well.
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Marine Animal Masks by Liz Sexton Spotlight Beloved Species in Lifelike Papier-Mâché
If you feel like a fish out of water, the saying goes, then you’re probably feeling a little confused or uncomfortable. St. Paul-based artist Liz Sexton gives the simile new meaning with recent marine-themed additions to her ongoing papier-mâché masks series, highlighting the distinctive faces of familiar creatures like walruses, manatees, and polar bears that find themselves out and about on dry land.
Sexton enjoys papier-mâché for its versatility and accessibility, using additional readily available materials like cloth, wire, and acrylic paint to build up each animal’s unique textures, patterns, and colors. Comprising her upcoming solo exhibition Out of Water at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, the lifelike wearable sculptures draw attention to a variety of beings that rely on aquatic ecosystems for survival. Barnacles and belugas are photographed in atmospheric settings by the artist’s partner and collaborator Ben Toht, who captures each animal’s unique details and expressions.
Many of Sexton’s sculptures portray species that, in their native habitats, are under threat as they increasingly become entangled in nets and suffer the effects of the climate crisis. The delicate and often awkward balance between the human-made environment and natural ecosystems is highlighted in photographs of the masks in atmospheric settings by the artist’s partner and collaborator Ben Toht. The portraits playfully juxtapose the creatures with unusual locations like a grocery store freezer aisle, a campground, or a laundromat.
Out of Water opens May 6 and continues through September 3 in Winona, and you can find more work on the artist’s website and Instagram.
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‘All on a Mardi Gras Day’ Follows Big Chief Demond Melancon as He Creates His Beaded Suit for the Annual Celebration
“Who are the Indians? This is the old stories that were told to me. The slaves ran away through the routes in the Underground Railroad, and the Indians gave them refuge in different spots. So the Mardi Gras Indians pay homage to them,” says Big Chief Demond Melancon at the opening of “All on a Mardi Gras Day.” The short, intimate documentary, directed by Michal Pietrzyk, follows the artist as he prepares for the annual celebration, which involves painstakingly beading the vibrant suit he’ll wear during the festival.
Melancon, who we spoke with last spring as he worked on an ongoing portrait series, is a leader of the tribe of the Young Seminole Hunters in New Orleans, the city where he was raised. Much of Pietrzyk’s film centers on place and community, describing how gentrification has pushed the artist out of his neighborhood and how his role as Big Chief turns him into a sort of father figure to some of the younger members.
“All on a Mardi Gras Day” also reveals Melancon’s immense sacrifice for and dedication to his art, from waking up before dawn and retiring well after midnight to living in a neighborhood with cheaper rent so that he can afford the beads, feathers, and other materials he needs to create his suits. As the celebration nears, he sequesters himself at home for fear of missing the parade, which once happened when he was detained by police.
Although a centuries-long tradition, Melancon is quick to point out that being a Black Masker, the name he prefers to Mardis Gras Indian, continues to hold relevance today. “Because of not being able to participate in Mardis Gras originally, we made a carnival for ourselves. We made Black Masking. You can’t forget. You can’t forget because of the injustices that are still going on, so when I put my suit on, when I sew my suit, I’m sewing my suit in rebellion to that,” he says.
After showing at several festivals, “All on a Mardi Gras Day” has garnered numerous awards and nominations. Watch the documentary on Pietrzyk’s Vimeo, and find out more about Melancon and his work on Instagram.
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Mila Textiles Reimagines the Balaclava in Vibrant Beadwork and Embroidered Visages
Masks have long been associated with myriad cultural functions from ceremonial rites and dramatic performances to defense and protection from disease or inclement weather. For London-based designer Kamila, who works under the name Mila Textiles, ski masks—also known as balaclavas—provide a fitting canvas for elaborately embroidered, wearable compositions.
A 19th century military staple, balaclavas saw a sartorial rise in 2021. The practical knitwear item takes its name from the Ukrainian port town of Balaclava, a key battle site during the Crimean War of 1854, and in the 20th century, the garment became a trope in movies and television depicting burglaries and heists. Kamila’s colorful reinterpretation of the mask relaxes these associations. “I want my work to make my audience feel happy, forget about their stresses for a bit, and chill,” she tells Colossal.
Kamila draws inspiration from her local environment, sharing that “living in London means I am constantly surrounded by events, museums, and galleries where I can take pictures of anything that gives me creative ideas.” The vibrant hues and textures of coral and marine life are another influence, especially in the context of cartoons. “I try to include creatures in my designs because this brings comfort to me, almost as cartoons would,” she says. Bright colors are paired with beads and layers of thread to produce playful patterns around the wearer’s eyes.
In addition to balaclavas, Mila Textiles produces meticulously embellished bags and pouches featuring faux fur and patterned fabrics. New items are listed in the shop on her website, and you can follow more of her work on Instagram.
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Tau Lewis’s Monumental Textile Masks Envision a Mythical Post-Apocalyptic Transformation
Translating to “the voice of the people is the voice of god,” Vox Populi, Vox Dei is artist Tau Lewis’s reimagining of historic systems and principles. The Latin phrase is often associated with the British Whig party and the establishment of secular democracies throughout Europe, although Lewis hones in on the saying’s lingering religious reference as she envisions enormous characters who’ve emerged from an apocalypse.
Six sculptural masks populate the gallery at 52 Walker for the artist’s ongoing solo show, which explores what she describes as “the incapacity of humankind to create structures of law, principles of morality, or hierarchies of government without a reliance on the imaginary.” The monumental works, the largest of which stands upwards of 13 feet, meld classical myths, contemporary science fiction, and the dramatic performances associated with Yoruban masking traditions. Focused on the idea of transformation following destruction, the collection engenders a joyful, hopeful outlook.
Born in Toronto and now based in New York, Lewis’s world-building is unique and particularly expansive as it connects myriad bodies of work: each character within Vox Populi, Vox Dei contains fragments of the artist’s earlier projects, engendering what she terms a “material DNA” that courses throughout her oeuvre. In a similar vein, the sculptures pay homage to the legacies of the fabrics themselves. The artist stitches salvaged textile scraps, donated leather, and remnants from a Long Island furrier into patchwork eyes and lips, tousled hair-like fringe, and vibrant floral tendrils that dangle and pool on the floor. Otherworldly and imposing, the works are totems for an imagined future.
If you’re in New York, you can see Vox Populi, Vox Dei through January 7, 2023, and Lewis’s work is also included in Black Atlantic, which is up at Brooklyn Bridge Park through November 22. Explore more of her genealogical archive on her site and Instagram.
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Mysterious Creatures Emerge from Recycled Materials in Sculptures by Spencer Hansen
Long-legged creatures don otherwordly masks in sculptures by Bali-based artist Spencer Hansen, whose work explores identity and connection through a cast of uncanny characters. Using primarily natural, found, and recycled materials like wood, metal, bone, plant fibers, and ceramic, he draws inspiration from surrounding environment and frequent travels. Originally from Idaho, he relocated to Bali where he built a workshop that houses studios and live-work space for a team of skilled artisans who help to bring the pieces to life.
Alongside business partner Shayne Maratea, with whom he founded independent clothing and art company BLAMO, Hansen often collaborates with artists and photographers to merge sculpture and performance. Intended to inspire curiosity and play, the characters are carved and assembled in a variety of scales, from toy-like figurines to life-size suits, with mysterious faces.
Hansen will be showing work with Skye Gallery at Aqua Art Miami at the end of this month and has a solo exhibition opening in December at Samuel Lynne Galleries in Dallas. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram.
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