CHICAGO — Led Zeppelin, man — they were so before my time. Arguably the inventors of heavy metal, the band reached their height of fame in the early 1970s with the song “Stairway to Heaven” on their untitled fourth album. Through the works of artist Karolina Gnatowski, now on view in the artist’s solo exhibition Lined Pages at Lloyd Dobler Gallery, contemporary viewers can experience forms and images of Led Zeppelin’s guitarist, Jimmy Page. Gnatowski’s weirdly gnarly sculptures sit like ducklings all in a row, leaning against a white wall. Made from a variety of fibrous materials such as steel tubing, wool, found sticks, brass hoops, beads, latch-hook yarn, and plaster, the sculptures portray Page in his various phases, from healthful right up to completely drugged-out.
The songs of Led Zeppelin blared, and still do, from supermarkets and corner markets, liquor stores and convenience stores in rural Pennsylvania, where Gnatowski grew up. Like artist Marie Walz and her ongoing fascination with Nick Rhodes, Gnatowski nods to the idol of her youth. The resultant sculptures are idle, non-wearable but fashionable objects. Deformed and defunct mannequins leaning against a wall and waiting for their display-case moment, Gnatowski’s creations are woven through, covered in buttons, and felted together. They suggest both an homage to and a disassociation from the celebrity construction itself.
“Post Jimmy” has a Dada-esque head that forms a likeness of the musician’s face through collage and wears a sweater vest made entirely of buttons; in “Travel Jimmy,” his head references the uncanniness of a Louise Bourgeois sculpture, and he dons a black sweater with pink poppies sewn across it. All of the sculptures are life-size save for “Misty Mountain Jimmy” (2013), which offers a miniature version of the musician with legs as twisty, flesh-colored pipe cleaners and head formed from an apple core that will eventually rot away. Positioned on top of a mound of paper that resembles a charred mound of garbage, here we see Page at the height of his heroin addiction. He’s plopped at the top of a magic mountain made of filth and veins turned black from use, but thankfully, he recovers and returns in later sculptures. Jimmy Page is still alive and well today, and recently announced that Led Zeppelin reissues will contain previously unreleased material.
There is more to Gnatowski’s sculptures than just a fascination with the celebrity front man. Through renderings of a musician that she’s never met (and probably won’t, unless the stars align in some way), Gnatowski calls to mind the way we idolize and idealize people we don’t know based on images we see of them in the media. Following their stories from afar, the fabrics woven around them become our own renderings.
Karolina Gnatowski: Lined Pages continues at Lloyd Dobler Gallery (1545 W Division Ave, Chicago) through December 14.