We can reconstruct the past with painstaking precision, and still we’ll have not what happened, but what we remember. Ann Toebbe’s absorbing mixed-media paintings, on view at Steven Zevitas Gallery, document childhood memories of home.
It begins with “Six Sisters (Judy)” and “Six Sisters (JoAnn).” Toebbe asked her two elderly aunts to describe their childhood bedroom. Structurally, they’re the same — they agree on placement of beds and windows. But the palette shifts. Judy’s walls are pink and lavender; JoAnn favors pale green. Judy has a braided rug on a wooden floor; JoAnn remembers a wall-to-wall carpet with a botanical motif.
Toebbe’s exacting and peculiar rendering helps us focus on the details. The view is from the ceiling; below, walls flatten like an unfolded cardboard box. There’s something almost clinical in this skewed perspective; the room doesn’t enclose us, but is rather laid out like a patient on an operating table.
That cool formalism is a wonderful foil for her emotionally laden subject matter, which she amplifies with exquisite attention to small things — textures, fabrics, lighting fixtures. Toebbe combines painting with collage, carefully constructing the twining tones of the paper braided rug in Judy’s room, and affixing bits of lace for window curtains (JoAnn’s curtains are more like tulle).
Maybe the “Six Sisters” room was redecorated, and Judy and JoAnn are both right. The tension between them, though, ramps up the emotional charge. Toebbe also has made several paintings depicting the childhood home in Mexico of her friend, Hortencia, who, like Judy and JoAnn, shared a bedroom with her sisters.
We have nothing to compare Hortencia’s version to, but we don’t need it. “Four Sisters,” with its central two beds in their striped coverlets, suggests a kind of ground zero for Hortencia’s life. In the end, memory is a storehouse not of facts but of personal mythology, and Toebbe’s paintings depict creation myths.
Ceramics amid hanging scrolls
Japanese ceramicist Ken Matsuzaki and Indian textile artist Monika Correa make an elegant pair at Pucker Gallery. Correa’s woven textiles hang like scrolls throughout the gallery. In recent years, she has developed a technique that involves removing the reed from her loom, and the warp threads — the verticals — consequently wander and drift.
Sometimes she does this partway through the process. “Neel,” for instance, features white warps and blue wefts, looking orderly, even regimented, save for a rectangle in the middle where the warps ripple like a river. That interruption of regularity is like a catch in the breath, a surrender to sensuality.
Correa has a buzzy eye for color, but I gravitated more toward her black-and-white pieces, which rely purely on weaving technique to carry a work’s message. The softly ambling warps in “Yin Yang I” and “Black Nile” suggest soaking rains over dark waters.
She and Matsuzaki share a devotion to traditional form and a hunger for deviance and unpredictability. His ceramics recall the Momoyama period of Japanese ceramics in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He revels in the uncertainty of wood kilns, with their long firings and their flying ash.
Matsuzaki likes to take risks and experiment. Two large platters here are 27 inches across; to throw something of that size on a wheel takes tremendous skill and strength. The green one features an Oribe glaze (developed by Furuta Oribe during the Momoyama period), with green and coppery brown pouring toward a spectral blue center, exploding in turquoise.
He displays remarkable virtuosity and range, building clay forms, sometimes carving in patterns or layering on abstract adornments, playing with a variety of glazes. A circular vase with a yohen golden shino natural ash glaze looks gilded in gold and covered in melty mother-of-pearl. There’s something else Matsuzaki shares with Correa: a giddy taste for the sensual.
Sculptures and paintings becoming
Leah Piepgras’s sculptures and paintings at GRIN in Providence address what she calls in her artist’s statement “a constant state of becoming,” and our role as witnesses to our own becoming.
As a viewer in my own state of becoming, I want the art to prompt a feeling of discovery. Some of Piepgras’s work does this brilliantly
“Limen,” an installation of scores of ribbons of Mylar suspended from a silvery chunk, looks something like Cousin Itt of the Addams Family, if Cousin Itt were made of tinsel. It has an almost spiritual effect as it slowly rises toward the ceiling and then drops, landing in a shimmering slump. Its progress is incremental. Drifting upward, it looks angelic, and when it reaches its height, a yellow-streaked form appears beneath its skirts, like a golden egg.
“Cloud Mantle/Cloud Vision” is one of two hovering, organically shaped domes that look like wild, huge, ornate colored helmets made of popcorn (they’re made of foam, covered with epoxy resin). Stand beneath one, and stick your head up into it; it’s like spelunking on acid.
But other works clutter the viewing experience. There are too many small, biomorphic pieces, and bulbous disco balls distract. A sparer approach would have done Piepgras’s ambitious pieces more justice.
Echoes in Fiber : The Textile Art of Monika Correa
Oribe Transformation : New Pottery by Ken Matsuzaki
At: Pucker Gallery, 171 Newbury St., through July 13. 617-267-9473, www.puckergallery.com
Leah Piepgras: !Super Vision!
At: GRIN, 60 Valley St., Providence, through July 12. 401-272-0796, www.grinprovidence.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at cate