Joyce Scott gives sculptures a colorful upgrade in glass

Critic's Corner//Art

Art Column

March 14, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

Joyce Scott, whose trademark beaded sculptures often address painful issues of race, class and gender served up with a dollop of wry wit, is known for the uninhibited inventiveness of her art. Her new show at Goya Contemporary extends her beadwork ideas into the glass medium, marking a significant evolution in this prolific artist's career.

Scott recently spent time at the Pilchuck Glass School in Tacoma, Wash., founded by celebrated glass artist Dale Chihuly. Working with master glassmakers, Scott created an entirely new body of work in blown, lampworked, painted and pressed glass that exploits the whimsical, fanciful qualities of the medium while challenging traditional distinctions between art and craft.

The show recaps many of the themes Scott has explored before in her beadwork, quilting, weaving and other "craft" media - the body, sexual taboos, identity and spirituality.

In Melancholy City (2006), for example, a black-and-white beaded figure decorated with glass flowers that recall Chihuly's colorful concoctions perches on the rim of a mauve, blown-glass vase whose sides are inscribed with painted and lampworked images that refer obliquely to the 1904 Baltimore Fire.

The piece shows off Scott's well-established technique of constructing images in layers. Here, parts of the houses and figures that appear on the vase's sides were drawn beneath the surface of the glass when it was still in a molten state, while other parts of the image were painted on the surface after the glass had cooled.

In another work, Scott depicts a grave, dignified Mexican-American mother and her child in a reference to Hispanics' new status as the nation's largest ethnic minority.

The mother's head and torso are fashioned from glass beads, while her flowing skirts are made of blown and painted glass, and the child's doll-like body is a clever concoction of painted wood and cloth.

Many of these pieces seem larger as well as more massive than Scott's previous work; the heavy, beautifully worked glass forms give her beaded sculptures a new gravitas as well as a powerful tactile allure. One wants to touch these capricious shapes and enjoy the contrasting textures of stubbly beadwork, smooth glass curves and luminous painted surfaces, even while recognizing these are major works of great moral seriousness. Scott manages to engage us on both levels and make it seem easy.

Breathe: Joyce J. Scott runs through April 20 at Goya Contemporary, 3000 Chestnut Ave. Call 410-366-2001 or go to

Farber photos

At the other end of the emotional spectrum from Scott's ebullient, in-your-face figurative sculptures are Dennis Farber's ultracool, abstract minimalist paintings and photo works that deliberately empty themselves of any narrative or moral content.

Farber's paintings are constructed out of innumerable layers of shiny acrylic paint in bright, pop-derived colors like sherbet orange and lime green.

Most of the works are about the size and shape of a two-by-four, and they're hung vertically on the wall so that the colors seem to drip off them like the ices on a melting Popsicle stick.

Farber's photographs seem to take their cue from conceptual artist John Baldessari's portraits from the 1970s, in which the subjects' faces were blocked from view by small colored circles.

Farber likewise frustrates the viewer's natural impulse to impose meaning on his appropriated photographs; by enlarging them on a computer so that the outlines of things are rendered virtually unrecognizable, he has made his images seem just familiar enough to make one regret their vanishing act behind a high-tech veil of digital pixilation.

Dennis Farber: New Paintings and Photoworks runs through March 24 at C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St. Call 410-539-1080 or go to cgrimaldis

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