Work > Coverer, 2014

Screenprinted paper, hand-cut and woven; glue; push pins
8 x 25 x 25 feet

Excerpt from the catalog essay Coverer by Erica Ehrenberg:

With the work Coverer, the gallery space is at once the room in all of its physical reality of volume, length, and height, and the psychic experience of that space made visible. It is another possible room we are both in and not in, that is at a slight angle to this one. It is a model of a galaxy lying on its back at our feet. It is the flux in temperature on a ground where light rays fall. It is the molecules of which the air is made, made tangible, like a tincture. Or the thousands of possible rooms that materialize as the viewer moves through it.

By painstakingly weaving together printed paper color strips of the primary colors along the spectrum, Baxter makes the white cube of the gallery space seem to move even as it stays in place— as space around us moves, or as the surface of water moves when illuminated with light. In these ways it is like a landscape, but unlike a landscape, it is also the trace that the artist’s body has made on her materials, as her materials alter the room they are laid down in, in their final form.

Baxter’s work combines printmaking, painting and sculpture, a kind of liminality that makes it possible to feel as though we are inhabiting, or walking through, a painting. By printing blocks of color, cutting them by hand into 9-inch strips, and glueing them together, Baxter generates a basic building block from which her forms will form, one that puts to use one of the oldest human crafts: weaving. Like strands of DNA or computer code, the permutations are what allow this malleable building block to grow into worlds, both real and imagined. The over under stitch gives the paper strips a physical strength and integrity—the resulting “fabric” is strong enough to be moved from place to place, or to re-arrange itself in different forms. The piece could be a raft, a tent, a blanket—something that can be folded down or expanded—it is the beginning of architecture, of clothing, the possibility of portable warmth and shelter.

All the while, each strip reveals, amidst the perfect grid of the weave, the handmade touch of the artist. It is a grid, but it wobbles, if almost imperceptibly. And like a creature surging with many moods, the colors both pale and intensify, depending on the direction you are looking. The palest grid climbs one wall by itself, peeking out from the land like one pale, almost invisible eye.

It is also this most delicate part of the piece that calls our attention to the fact that Coverer is porous. It resembles woven cloth, but it also calls our attention to the spaces between the material. Inside the gallery, it is actually possible to walk through the piece because of the negative-space squares that are embedded in the “fabric” of the piece. These squares of non-material also echo the generous amount of space between the strips of paper in the grid itself. In this way, Baxter plays with Coverer’s exploration of being and non-being, in which holes and absences play just as much of a role in the form of the piece as the screen printed strips of paper. In this way perhaps more than in any other, Coverer lies before us like a strung out net, and like a net does, is able in this way to hold, catch, reflect, and contain while air and even people are able still to move freely through it. Inherent in this kind of art making there is a certain humility. It reveals one of the wisdoms embedded in Baxter’s work, which has to do with her approach to the unknown—and the unknowable. As an artist exploring meaning both through and beyond herself, possibly beyond the ego, and even in and beyond the human, it makes perfect sense that what she seeks to construct is not an answer to the secrets of form and meaning, but literally a net capable of bringing to light, as her intertwining colors do, the fundamental process of change that is the present moment passing through it.

Erica Ehrenberg’s Poems have appeared in Slate, Octopus, jubilat, The New Republic, CURE, The St. Ann’s Review, Everyman.s Library Pocket Poet Series, and Guernica. She was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and has had fellowships and residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Vermont Studio Center, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Yaddo, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. She teaches at Fordham and for the Stanford online Writer’s Studio, and has given talks at Storm King on Poetry and sculpture.

Published for the exhibition
Joell Baxter
Real Art Ways
Hartford, Ct
April 20- July 2, 2014