Two West Coast Artists: Different Media/Affinities of Form

Two West Coast Artists: Different Media/Affinities of Form


Cheryl A. Thomas, Coupled Relics 121 and 141, porcelain & stoneware, 16" x 26" x 24", 2008

Nancy Margolis Gallery
Ferne Jacobs/Cheryl Thomas
New York, New York
September 11 - October 18, 2008

In the Thursday-night hubbub of the Chelsea art district, the inspired pairing of new works by two veteran California artists offered both quiet contemplation and intense aesthetic pleasure at the Nancy Margolis Gallery. For Ferne Jacobs, a pioneer in the use of basketry techniques to create sculptural works, the medium is fiber, specifically waxed linen thread. In a painstaking process-the four works in the exhibition took the artist over two years to complete-Jacobs wraps the threads four times around a cord to create a coil and builds the form as she goes by stitching-at intervals of four wraps-after each row into the one before it. Jacobs says her commitment to her arduous medium grows out of "a fascination that thread can be made solid, that by using only my hands and the thread, a form can be made that will physically stand on its own." Though Jacobs has always used color, these new works seem to be a departure because of their variegated effect, achieved by twining different color threads together as she creates her coils. The forms remain upright, yet they curve and twist and slump as if reacting to their own weight. I found myself captivated by the most recently completed work, Carousel, which seems positively baroque in its dance-like ruffles and flourishes.

Viewing Cheryl Thomas's six works after Jacobs's, I assumed they were fiber as well, until I realized that these fibrous forms resembling collapsed baskets are made of porcelain. The coil is as basic to Thomas's method of construction as it is to Jacobs. She coils tiny ropes of porcelain resembling spaghetti into thin-walled, balanced containers that she fires in the kiln where they collapse into unpredictable forms. She then couples two such forms and re-fires them into abstract sculpture. (These sensuous shapes, which she titles Coupled Relics, call to mind, albeit in much larger scale, the crumpled, folded pots of the eccentric Mississippi potter George Ohr.) In contrast to Jacobs's exuberant use of color, Thomas works in black and white and the simplified palette contributes to the formal elegance of these pieces. Thomas finds pleasure in the time-consuming building process-"the daily, quiet repetitive physical act of coiling is essential to my understanding"-but as her art matures, she is readier to rely on chance for the outcome-"my sculptures are created by a marriage of design and accident."

So in their individual ways the works by both artists offer structure and spontaneity and an alluring tactility-one longs to touch the textured surfaces. They are testimony to the rewarding results of hard-won skill and patience wedded to an experimental, questing spirit. The show is not large, but, to quote Spencer Tracy, what's there is ''cherce." Visit it while you can.