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A Review of ‘Material Magic’ by Whitney Artell

Material Magic A Review of Clare Graham & MorYork: The Answer is Yes

by Whitney Artell, SNPA recipient

Clare Graham’s pre-symposium studio tour.  Photos by Whitney Artell

Clare Graham’s pre-symposium studio tour. Photos by Whitney Artell

Pop tops, old teddy bears, paint by numbers, and bottle caps are just a few of the materials that Clare Graham uses to create his sculptures and assemblages. In a world where we are surrounded by objects that are culturally deemed “disposable,” it is uplifting to see these materials transformed from trash into treasure. Graham infuses his work with a kind of magic that is hard to convey without being in the presence of his creations. When, Clare Graham & MorYork: The Answer is Yes, opened at the Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM), http://www.cafam.org/, September 13th, it was the second time I experienced the monumentality of his work. Graham transformed the museum’s third floor into a smaller-scale version of his Highland Park studio and exhibition space MorYork, http://www.claregraham.com/MorYork.html, which I visited earlier that week as part of the TSA’s pre-symposium artist studio tour. The exhibition continues at CAFAM until January 4, 2015.

In his installation at CAFAM, Graham organizes thousands of individual recyclables and cultural artifacts into larger sculptural forms, repeat patterns, and furniture, creating a sense of order similar to his studio space. Although the exhibition area at CAFAM is a fraction of the size of Graham’s own industrial sized MorYork gallery, he is able to arrange key elements like the cabinets of curiosity tiled with paint by number fragments, to evoke a similar spatial structure to MorYork and to draw view- ers into the center of the room to observe the found objects on display. Graham has even modified the ceilings, adding wooden rafters to hang sculptures like the ones at MorYork. Everything feels much more contained with less vertical space to grow, but it is far away from becoming overwhelming with the application of gridded patterning and organization of materials.

Teddy bear eyes at CAFAM.  Photos by Whitney Artell

Teddy bear eyes at CAFAM. Photos by Whitney Artell

The bright lighting at CAFAM causes Graham’s pop top tower, bench, and chairs to sparkle. Mirrors play a key role in bouncing the light and catching viewers’ reflec- tions amidst the objects of wonder. Clare Graham’s sense of humor is apparent in his play of materials. As you stare at yourself in one of the many mirrors, a frame of teddy bear eyes stares back at you. I admire Graham’s ingenuity in finding new ways to use the same material. The teddy bear eyes adorn the frames and walls as a for- mal dot pattern while their stuffed forms have been completely engulfed in shrink wrap and morph into modernist sculptures.

Graham explaining the history of some of his found objects to TSA members during studio tour

Graham explaining the history of some of his found objects to TSA members during studio tour

While a lot of contemporary artwork can be read as a lament on our relationship to consumer culture and our accumulation of trash, few artists are able to inject such a sense of joy and wonder into the discarded. In The Answer is Yes, Clare Graham awak- ens the viewers to the possibility of finding magic in materials that are abundant in everyday life.

whitney artellWhitney Artell received her MFA in Textiles from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2012 and her BFA in Fiber from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006. Whitney’s work has been exhibited at the Gray Gallery in Greenville, North Carolina, The Greater Denton Arts Council in Denton, Texas, The New York Design Center in New York City, the Sol Koffler Gallery in Providence, Rhode Island, and at Haystack School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine. Her art- work is an investigation of contemporary perceptions of landscape.