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Fiber works by Nancy Belfer at Indigo Art Gallery

Within the Surface

Closed and Open Passages, collage by Nancy Belfer

For nearly four decades Nancy Belfer taught in the design department at Buffalo State College, mentoring scores of future artisans, art educators and arts professionals. (She is now professor emeritus.) Concurrently she exhibited her work nationally, received honors such as a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and authored three books on various fiber art techniques.

Each genre of craft (wood, clay, glass, metal, fiber) has its Western New York luminaries. For fiber, Belfer is at the top of that list, so it was a wise choice that Elizabeth Samuels of the newly relocated Indigo Art Gallery made to present a solo exhibition of Belfer’s most recent work.

What you will see through June 6 are two related bodies of work, since the exhibition combines the artist’s exuberantly detailed, richly textured mixed-media collages with a new series of quilt-like wall panels that are constructed of fabrics, some of which the artist has altered using dying techniques she has perfected over the years. Fiber art is a broad field that embraces, among other techniques, weaving and textile printing, and the merit of this presentation is that it demonstrates how a seasoned practitioner of these multifarious processes sensitively interweaves them to capture and sustain the viewers’ attention.

At first glance the relationship between the fabric panels and collages may elude you, but the key is to view them as “micro and macro” permutations of the same intent—related variants of the artist’s masterful ability to create compositions of illusory (and in some cases actual) texture and juxtapositions of color and form. The collages, composed of printed papers, found images, fibrous materials, and other mixed media, are fastidiously composed and assembled to form pictorial space that alludes, through various filters of abstraction, to landscapes, rock formations, or other natural imagery. By contrasting value and color (in both the collages and fabric panels) Belfer creates intriguing illusions of depth and dimension.

The seemingly haphazard appearance of the collages—perhaps best described as “carefully planned imperfection”—is in reality the result of a highly controlled hand using design principles such as balance and composition to maximum advantage. The interplay between the random and the calculated, as well as the subtle shifts between actual and visual texture, make these works that balance delicacy and rustication so mesmerizing. Ultimately, it’s as much about what is on the surface as what is under the surface. Along these lines, truncated and partially obscured areas of text—likely sourced from magazines—add an additional, imbedded layer of meaning.

The evocative titles of the works that include words such as fragment, intersecting, embellished, and structures underscore the artists overriding concerns and aptly prepare you for a viewing experience that demands close inspection for full appreciation. The collages are all irregularly shaped and their perimeters subsequently transform their white backgrounds into irregular forms that become part of the total composition. Collage works such as Intersecting Walls I and Intersecting Walls II push this effect even further since sections of these collage configurations extend to the edge of the frame thus separating segments of dense visual information from their contrasting voids. It’s a new direction in the artist’s oeuvre that begs for further exploration.

gerald mead

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