Elisa D’Arrigo is best known for her wall works in which the merging of sewing and repetition is a central feature. For 25 years she stitched together scraps of fabric, pieces of old socks, and fragments of flat or hand-coiled paper, after first soaking or covering them in paint, which stiffened the individual units as well as permeated her sewn accretions with a subtly shifting monochromatic tonality. Repetition became one of the defining characteristics of her art, as well as its limitation.
In her recent work — all of which is in ceramic — twisted, tubular forms have subsumed D’Arrigo’s penchant for repetition. The rhythmic labor she employs to improvise upon a basic abstract form — a tube or hollow coil — has opened the artist up to a sense of the absurd, not to mention the quirky, the humorous, and the goofy. D’Arrigo’s shift in materials, coupled with the revitalization of her process, can be seen in her current exhibition, Elisa D’Arrigo: Vases and Drawings at Elizabeth Harris (February 18–March 26, 2016). Ceramic, it should be pointed out, is not new for D’Arrigo, but something she has returned to, having studied it when she was in school.
All the pieces in the exhibition are elongated hollow tubes that the artist has twisted, folded, knotted and pinched. While at a residency at The Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy, in 2013, she made a suite of drawings in which the abstracted, atmospheric grounds were partially reticulated with fine lines; she was also able to complete a group of ceramic pieces. In the ceramics on display, the surfaces go from smooth to pebbly, with partially reticulated areas that look almost as if someone had doodled on the surface here and there. The combination of an uneven, pebbly surface and a reticulated network on the pale green ceramic, “Twisted “8 (2015), is likely to remind the viewer of a molted snake skin. Equally reptilian, the puckered skin in “Twisted 11” and the pocked surface of “Lava Dyad” (both 2015) suggest the effects of extreme heat, both manmade and natural.
By twisting, folding and pinching the hollow tubes, D’Arrigo knowingly occupies a territory first opened up by George E. Ohr, “The Mad Potter of Biloxi,” who has also been an inspiration for Ken Price and Kathy Butterly. What all of these artists share is a sense of humor, but, in D’Arrigo’s case, this is a relatively new development and a welcome one. Still, it is clear that she can hold her own with these artists, and that is no small thing.
The other affinity these artists have in common is their preoccupation with the vessel: they all improvise on a basic or — one could say — archetypal shape, transforming it into something else without subsuming its original identity. At times, D’Arrigo’s ceramics seem as if they are trying to climb out of their skin, which is impossible since skin and body are identical in her art. What distinguishes her work from Price and Butterly, both of whom I have previously written about, is her ability to animate her forms, make them seem as if they are crawling across the floor, like a cartoon serpent, or ascending like a headless python.
There is something beautifully bathetic about D’Arrigo’s hollow-bodied forms stretching their folded, twisted, knotted and squeezed carcasses across space, as if they are striving to become sentient beings but are unable to do so. On some level, they are three-dimensional drawings, a linear form moving through abstract space. Their rough surfaces and handle-like bodies invite you to pick them up, imagine what function they might serve. Some of the tubular forms are crumpled and sag while others lean, about to keel over. They stir up unlikely associations in this regard – as I was reminded of a hookah that the caterpillar in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland might have used, and for a moment imagined that D’Arrigo has fused pipe and creature into something new. Not many works can transport you on such a delightful journey. This is why she belongs in the special company of Price and Butterly. With their work, you need only open your eyes and dream.
Elisa D’Arrigo: Vases and Drawings continues at Elizabeth Harris (529 West 20th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through March 26.
At a time when many Black artists turned to figuration, Gilliam harnessed the power of abstraction, freeing the canvas from its support.
The artist’s portrait of her mother, painted in 1977 and reproduced on the vaporetti of Venice, may be one of the most evocative artworks in the Biennale.
Convened by Erika Sprey, Lamin Fofana, Sky Hopinka, Emmy Catedral, and Manuela Moscoso, the public program unfolds this summer at CARA in New York City.
A new box set of four of the Iranian director’s features offers a great opportunity to get to know his singular style.
It’s not a “greatest hits” show, or a comprehensive survey; rather, it is a starting point to reconsider an expansive vision of Chicana/o art.
The Bay Area art book fair is back this July with free programming at three different on-site venues, new exhibitors, and fundraising editions from renowned artists.
“I’m focused on contemporary Native American stories, the modern-day ups and downs of that lifestyle, but I’m not trying to do it in a traditional manner,” the award-winning filmmaker told Hyperallergic in an interview.
The Tweet comparing an ominous screen capture from the Tucker Carlson Show to one of Holzer’s Truisms is being sold as an NFT to benefit crucial organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
Shows at the Hudson Valley’s Hessel Museum of Art feature artists Dara Birnbaum and Martine Syms, as well as new scholarship on Black melancholia as an artistic and critical practice.
Rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Pérez was sentenced to nine years.
On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision to undo 50 years of constitutional rights to abortion, artist Elana Mann’s “protest rattles” feel especially poignant and urgent.
This week, Title IX celebrates 50 years, the trouble with pronouns, a writer’s hilarious response to plagiarism allegations, and much more.