Indiana-based artist Jessica Calderwood imbues her whimsically camouflaged figures with questions about the female psyche. Whether covered by a polka-dotted orb or stuck in a ruffled tube of fabric, her nondescript women are temporarily trapped by their environments, their only defining features the sleek black pumps or striped kneesocks that stick out from their disguise. This concealment, Calderwood says, serves as “a negation, a censoring or denial of what lies beneath. These anthropomorphic beings are at once, powerful and powerless, beautiful and absurd, inflated, and amputated.”
Deftly melding historical techniques with contemporary themes of identity, each of the works is rooted in traditional craftsmanship. A focus on mixed media is at the center of Calderwood’s broad body of work, which spans metalsmithing, jewelry, and wall-based ceramics, and many of her projects blend materials like enamel, porcelain, polymer clay, and felted wool to further evoke craft forms.
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Andrea Love (previously) cooks up some treats just in time for the summer heat, although their woolen ingredients might make them less thirst-quenching than usual. From her miniature kitchen, Love films short stop-motion animations that show her squirting spools of juice to make lemonade or coating heaps of ice cream with a thin line of chocolate yarn. The refreshing snacks are the latest in the animator and fiber artist’s archive of felted fare, which you can watch on YouTube and Instagram. (via The Kids Should See This)
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Iranian artist Salman Khoshroo (previously) continues his wool portraiture series with dozens of new sculptural works. Chunky, dyed rovings stretch and curl into facial features, beards, and coifs that pair the supple shape and color of the raw materials with a unique expression.
This nuanced set expands on the original collection he created last year in response to quarantine and personal trauma, although they deviate with more stable and durable structures and new materials like velvet and synthetic fur. Khoshroo describes this evolved process as therapeutic and indicative of wide-spread change:
Weaving inanimate fibers into faces has brought me comfort and helped with overcoming my own experience of contracting the virus. These portraits are delicate and vulnerable and resonate with my own precarious situation. We live in fragile times, and I feel the need to find new materials and the mindset to reinvent my practice. Wool brings warmth and intimacy to these portraits and plays with provoking the nurture instinct.
In addition to shaping unspun wool into the portraits shown here, Khoshroo also has been creating full busts with the natural fiber along with sculptures made of foam paint, all of which you can see on his site and Instagram.
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In her salient text, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being, scholar Christina Sharpe delves into the multiple definitions of “wake,” which span from “the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, (to) coming to consciousness.” “In the wake,” Sharpe writes, “the past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present.” Largely focused on conversations around anti-Blackness and continued violence, the book is rooted in the afterlife of slavery and what sentiments, practices, and memories linger into the current moment, questions that similarly ground the work of artist Nastassja Swift.
Through fiber-based figures often arranged in large gatherings, Swift explores various narratives tied to Blackness, particularly those that relate to water and ancestral presences. “I’m interested in taking those things as starting points and imaging a space or happening that involves my sculpture and allows me to think through a hypothetical rooted in that memory or history,” the Virginia-based artist says. She derives these stories from texts like Sharpe’s, discussions with friends, and in one instance, a conversation with an older Black woman at a Toni Morrison film screening.
While there are multiple narrative threads in each of her pieces, Swift doesn’t strive to disclose each one, preferring explicit gaps in the connections. “I love knowing that there’s more to what’s being made and imagining other characters or continued happenings around what’s being made,” she says. “That’s not something I’m attempting to convey, rather information that I’m okay not sharing.”
Many of the faces evoke imagined subjects, not relatives Swift has met or seen in photographs, but rather somewhat of “an ancestral presence that allows my hands to make the face in any particular moment without my mind being aware of it.” She always begins with the supple shape of the face and then sculpts the facial details and hair from dyed wool and felt, a process that’s intimate and that’s evolved with two more recent works.
“With ‘Passage, when momma lets my braids flow down my back’ (2021) and ‘Your Banks are Red Honey Where the Moon Wanders-Self Portrait’ (2020), everything changed,” Swift says, describing the shift in the process to that of a ritual. The first of these two works, “Passage,” is a bubblegum pink figure sporting a collar marked with smaller heads arranged in a gradient. Long braids descend down the torso and pool on the floor. Second is Swift’s self-portrait, which features a calm face shaped in deep red wool that’s silhouetted by braids and figurative tendrils. Both interpret specific subjects as West African masks and sculptural forms in order to question “what it means to worship someone, and how that word could be reshaped to allow us to honor those around us,” the artist says.
Swift will have a satellite exhibition titled Canaan: when I read your letter, I feel your voice at the Contemporary Arts Network in Newport News from June 5 to July 3, 2021. Thanks to the Art as Activism Grant from the Black Box Press Foundation, the pieces will then travel for a stay at the Galveston Arts Center. The artist sells some felted dolls and other goods in her shop, and head to Instagram for glimpses into her studio and a larger collection of her sculptures.
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Adorable, cheery, and slightly dazed, this eccentric ensemble of miniatures is the latest from Moscow-based crafter Natasya Shuljak (previously). Made from raw fibers felted together, the expressive characters are imbued with whimsy and play. Flower petals sprout from ambiguous creatures, while other pudgy animals emit a calm and joyful air.
Because Shuljak’s style of dry felting emerged in recent years, she shares that her current preoccupation is with finding new ways to create without the help of tradition. “There is a lot of abstract in my work, and I want to enhance this feeling,” she says, noting that she might seek inspiration in other art forms like sculpture and architecture. “These spheres are united by expressive language: the character of the line, rhythm, texture, color, etc.”
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For Salman Khoshroo, carefully fashioning thick fibers into masculine portraits has a therapeutic effect. The Iranian artist, whose impasto paintings we’ve written about previously on Colossal, says his Wool on Foam series is born out of recent trauma and experience in quarantine. By sculpting the wool rovings into slight noses, puckered lips, and flowing hair, Khoshroo has evoked the delicacy and vulnerability humans face in precarious situations.
We live in fragile times, and I feel the need to find new materials and the mindset to reinvent my practice. Wool brings warmth and intimacy to these portraits and plays with provoking the nurture instinct. Making male portraits with this habitually perceived feminine material is part of a personal journey in re-interpreting the masculine condition.
The artist tells Colossal that he preferred to keep the pigmented rovings in their natural form, rather than spinning them into thread or paring them down before use. “I laid the wool like floating brush strokes and these are the results. I guess coming to a new material without any predisposition makes it easier to create something without the burden of established techniques,” he says. Khoshroo sees these works as an extension of his established practice that produces similarly abstract portraits.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.