A Series from Within
Larissa Nowicki's sculptures and weavings are formed from the printed pages of books, sliced and intricately woven to form new works that cannot be read in the traditional sense. The loosely assembled grids and reductive forms invoke a vocabulary of minimalism, creating a link with the work of Agnes Martin, whilst their tactile construction references the work of Anni Albers. Indeed, many of the works included in the exhibition were researched and developed during a four-month residency at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Connecticut.
One of the central works in the exhibition, entitled ‘The Taste of our Time’ (2011), focuses exclusively on the re-use of printed images. Its title derives from the eponymous series of 38 artist monographs published by Skira between 1953 – 1968. Nowicki has used the images from each individual monograph to create two colour weavings representative of the subject artist’s lifelong palette. The weavings are mounted, one weaving on each of the front and back cover of the original book, and then connected together to form two quilt-like structures that give an overview of all the artists’ ‘colour palettes’ throughout their careers. In this work, Nowicki is exploring the way in which colour that has been printed on paper is intended to replicate the colour of an original painting or artwork. Just as the paint and materials used to make the original work is unstable and may change over time, so the colour images within the books age and deteriorate. These two notions of the passing of time and the veracity of colour representation are explored further throughout the exhibition.
Working from her studies for ‘The Taste of our Time’, and taking their textile quality to its logical conclusion, Nowicki has matched individual squares of printed colours to corresponding dyed wool from the London based Appleton Wool company. Using wool thread on prairie cloth, she has reproduced the woven grids as panels of coloured needlepoint, drawing deliberate attention to skills and craft practices normally considered to be ‘feminine’. In practical terms, Nowicki works using needles and tools inherited from her paternal grandmother, whilst seated at a kitchen table passed down from her maternal grandmother. The sense of stitching in, preserving and celebrating personal histories and narratives is implicit, as is the sense of marking time. It is notable than none of the 38 artists included in ‘The Taste of our Time’ series is a woman, and Nowicki seems to be implying that feminine crafts, such as quilting and needlepoint, are a legitimate and perhaps subversive means of female artists writing and preserving their own histories.
This work is juxtaposed with a series of small weavings and paintings made from a book about the painting of Thomas Gainsborough that reproduced portraits of aristocratic women. Nowicki has made nine small weavings in which the weft (horizontal) strips are taken from the portrait imagery of the different women and the warp (vertical) strips are from the same landscape imagery. The woven swatch disconnects the colour from the original composition allowing for a new perspective in ‘seeing’ the colour print.
Nowicki has then followed a similar process as for the needlepoint, matching each of the squares in the woven grid to the closest corresponding colour in the standardized prismacolour pencil set. Finally, she has mixed oil paints to reproduce the colour, and created a series of nine ‘portrait’ paintings of the different women. Again, Nowicki seems to be commenting on the way in which women are portrayed in art history as decorative ‘content’, remarkable for their beauty, or for the wealth and status of their husbands and fathers. There is a sense in which Nowicki’s abstract portraits of the female subject emancipate her from the critical eye of the viewer. It is as if these works are playing a game of Chinese whispers in their treatment and exploration of colour. The orignal Gainsborough painting is photographed. The photographic image is then separated into plates, which are printed in cmyk colour on the press. Over time, the paper on which the image is printed ages and the ink oxidizes and reacts to the imposed conditions of light and storage. When Nowicki removes the tipped in colour plates from the book to shred and weave back together again, small minute sections of the colour plates become isolated from their larger image and observed individually. It is possible for a single stroke of colour that is not apparent in the painting as a whole to become dominant within a small square of the woven grid, and this is what is ultimately matched to the prismacolor palette, at which stage it is Nowicki’s eye and the conditions of light in her studio that affect the outcome. The implication is clear, that the reproduction of colour is at best an approximation, and the reception of colour is always subjective. Colour becomes a metaphor or analogy for the way in which personal histories are captured and passed on from one generation to the next, and the way in which meaning can alter over time.
Along side the formal works derived from the Skira publications, are a series of intimate handmade weavings produced using dedication pages and tipped in colour imagery from a range of different books. Nowicki describes these works as ‘improvisations’ in which she has allowed herself to respond intuitively to her materials, and to the content of each dedication page, which itself reveals something of the personal history of the book’s author.
One of the challenges presented by Nowicki’s work is the extent to which it demands the direct presence of the viewer in order to be properly understood. Reproduction images fail to capture adequately the detail and fragility in the work, whilst an extended temporal experience marked by close observation does not fail to reward. This deliberate slowing up of the viewing experience underlies Nowicki’s interest in duplication, multiplying, doubling, pairing and editioning. Works exhibited in series look similar at first glance, but upon closer inspection, the differences contained within each nuanced surface becomes apparent, inviting the viewer to question the validity of what they are looking at and to consider how ‘truthful’ the source reference was.
Larissa Nowicki (b.1971) trained at Rhode Island School of Design, USA before completing her MA at the Royal College of Art, London in 2006. Previous solo exhibitions include ‘In Waiting’, Man&Eve (2009). Selected group exhibitions include 'Remix: Selections from the ICC' which has toured to the Kotanah Museum of Art (New York) and The Daum Museum of Art (Sedalia, Missouri), 'Book Ends' at James Fuentes Gallery (New York) and 'Illiterature' at CSU University Art Gallery (Chico, California) and at Frumkin Gallery (Santa Monica, California).
Nowicki was awarded the Pulse Miami Prize in 2011 and the Augustus Martin Memorial Award, Innovation in Print Media from the Royal College of Art in 2006. She recently completed a 4 month residency at the Anni Albers Foundation in Connecticut. Nowicki lives and works in New York, USA.