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Affinities: The Work of Nancy Belfer at Indigo Art
by Patricia Pendleton
Obsessed with detail
Textile fibers are one of most ancient mediums used for human expression. Fibers from plants and animals are spun, woven, and knotted for functional and decorative use. Making things from cloth is often an entry into art making—it was for me. Once the exclusive domain of women working in the home, during the past century, fibers have become a fine art medium in the realm of painting and sculpture. Nancy Belfer has adapted traditions from around the world through tireless explorations of weaving, dyeing, patterning, and embellishment to form this prolific display of contemporary (textile) art. Anyone who wonders what keeps an artist motivated year after year might consider her comment: “Art is an area where you can lose yourself and find yourself at the same time.” This exhibition is an opportunity to view decades of one woman’s odyssey of discovery and creativity through work--and more work.
During the 1960s, an ancient form of dyeing was revitalized when kids wrapped rubber bands around white t-shirts and soaked them in colorful tubs of Rit dye from the grocery store. It was messy, but the results were magical. The color and splash of “Tie Dye” shirts were emblematic of that era. I made several myself and experimented with another “Resist” technique. Batik produces a crackly design effect when cloth painted with hot wax (and later removed) prior to dyeing. Nancy Belfer’s book, Batik and Tie Dye Techniques, explores these processes in depth. Her talk at Indigo was informative as she explained the “Discharge” application that she used to create several large wall pieces on view in the gallery. The design is arrived at by removing color of dyed fabric by blocking some areas prior to soaking in a bleach solution. Compelling patterns evolve as the artist binds together bias-cut pieces of the treated fabric using a “strip quilting” technique. One titled Winter Sky/Quiet Fields hangs impressively from floor to ceiling on the spacious gallery wall.
The artist includes imagery gathered from historical reference material in her mixed media works. Although she does not consider herself a political artist, several pieces contain references to war and the futility of peace conferences. Peace Conference incorporates a view of a long long table of medieval gentlemen in starchy ruffled collars and wide-brim hats. The seriousness of this scene is balanced with a line of tiny green plastic toy soldiers mounted along the top edge. None of her work is truly flat—even the paper collages shown under glass have an illusion of depth. They mirror the irregular edges and textures of the tactile fiber works. Belfer’s art practice seems to be an intense engagement with a collection of fibers, fragments, images, beads, and glittering bits. The work has a close relationship (affinity) with the natural world, as a sense of sky and horizon are often featured within the fields of detail. The Enchanted Forest series stand as if rooted in the earth. Protection is evoked in another series of Shield works. They also appear (to me) as if they could be inside views of the free-standing sculptures—opened up and flattened to reveal the rawness of the interior space. The organic irregular forms and intricate tactile surfaces are rich in embellishment carefully positioned and arranged.
The artist asserts that her work may appear spontaneous, but it is not. She reminds us that “every square inch is poured over and analyzed” to find the one way where all the elements harmonize, while making use of the accidental things that happen along the way. Sculptor Henry Moore, described his “secret” to lastingness as an artist: “Devote yourself entirely to one goal, work each day toward this goal—put all your imagination and energy into one endeavor.” Belfer casts a wider net as an educator, author, and artist who continues to exhibit nationally. She describes her approach to making art quite simply in a quote taken from a statement by local artist, Ani Hoover: “I figure out what I’m going to do and I keep on doing it.” Nancy Belfer has mastered the art and craft of working with fiber. Evidence of this will remain on view at Indigo Art through November 9. Be sure to look for the extra-special takeaway for gallery visitors (while they last), an artful fold-out of color images and thoughtful commentary by local curators.blog comments powered by Disqus
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