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Amanda Besl, Rosemary Lyons, and Ellen Markel at Indigo Art

"Self-portrait" by Amanda Besl.
"Twurlitzer" by Ellen Markel.

Crimson thread

The premise of this show is a Chinese proverb that states: “An invisible red string is said to connect those who are destined to meet, despite the time, the place, the circumstance. The string can be tightened or tangled, but will never be broken.” The first time I ever read this quote was on the wall of the Red Thread Theatre on the campus of Canisus College a couple years ago. It occurred to me then that the metaphor would be an ideal exhibition title. This is it. The selections by Besl, Lyons, and Markel explore the beauty of connection and disconnection.

Amanda Besl describes her finely drawn graphite works of “disembodied tresses and feral tangles” as self-portraits. Strands of DNA are regarded with special importance in a world where we style ourselves to convey a personal message about who we are. “A woman constructs her identity with her hair,” says Besl. Look at any fashion magazine and find abundant examples of how one might arrange the locks to impress and seduce. Besl’s paintings of hair express the lush livliness of braided and curled strands. Remove the strands from the head and these remains become a movable still life, ready to examine. Besl’s skillful drawing reflects the simple presence of herself found in this material and she invites the viewer to join into this intimacy.

Rosemary Lyons uses the careful process of crafting illuminated manuscripts with text that delivers contemporary meaning. Her form of “Fusion Conceptualism” combines line, image, pattern, calligraphic text, and gold leaf that are characteristic of the tradition. Shown with the phrase, “she couldn’t,” is a gold ring. A Dali-esque surreal melting clock appears with the words “not now” and “forever.” Toothy smiling lips accompany “Listen.” Her bookmaking techniques use beauty to spark thinking. What happens when words are exchanged? Connection—sometimes disconnection.

Ellen Markel is a furniture maker by day and a maker of whimsical assemblage creations by night. She is first a collector of beautiful bits of history—containers, images, literary references, baubles, mechanical wheels and pulleys. The artist joins these raw materials into small worlds reminiscent of vintage toys and amusement park fun. Each construction is a universe of moving parts and secret places. Pull the pearl to turn on a blue lampshade to reveal a homage to Vermeer’s famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring. Inside a lantern is a broken glass jar or soda bottle containing a pile of tiny scrolled writings inside equally tiny glass bottles, along with an image of three girls in vintage bathing attire. A porcelain fish head moves up and down over the entire scene called Fish Tale. Gallerist Elisabeth Samuels pointed out Sylvia and explained that the antique mahogany clock case was something she had acquired and later passed onto the artist. Markel has put it to good use in her tribute to poet Sylvia Plath, author of The Bell Jar. The front of the case shows a small painting of McLean Asylum (in Somerville, Massachusetts) where Plath was once a patient. The pulley reveals the figure of a woman rising up under a mesh bell. There are seven of Markel’s intricate worlds of broken parts to wonder upon. Their appealing arrangements will draw you a bit closer to some essential truth of the human condition.

I’m not a follower of destiny, but we do live in a world of synchronicity. When we pay attention, what is chaotic and fragmented seeks order and meaning to lead us forward. Yet, more and more, we live in an extrospective society, a place where happiness is imagined to be found by saturating the senses in the outside world. Crimson Thread emphasizes introspection. Carl Jung studied the creative process and learned that the artist unconsciously activates archetypal imagery to shape into finished work: “By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking.” Visit Indigo Art Gallery to find an example of this premise. The show is on view through March 2.

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