Fri 24 Mar 2023 to Fri 5 May 2023
Tue-Fri 11am-6.30pm, Sat 11am-5pm
Artist: Polly Apfelbaum
Featuring large-scale installations of textiles, ceramics and drawings, the work of Polly Apfelbaum is framed by wider political contexts and the legacy of post-war American art. The artist combines a variety of media with eye-catching colours and patterns to blur the lines between painting, sculpture and installation while also exploring the boundaries between art and craft and challenging hierarchies in cultural practice. Taking its title from the 1966 Nancy Sinatra song, this exhibition features new ceramics and woven floor pieces.
The series of twenty-one wall-mounted ceramics are part of a body of work Apfelbaum developed for her 2022 exhibition For the Love of Una Hale at Arcadia University, Pennsylvania (the state where the artist grew up). The pieces here have resulted from this extended residency at the University's ceramics studio. ‘The goal is to interpret the personal as political,’ the artist explains, citing her history of working with materials associated with craft and everyday life, ‘I'm starting to look back at my own history, where the inspiration came from’.
The exuberant colour palette of these works, which read like abstract paintings, derives from memories of early exposure to Pennsylvania German art. The ceramics have become a means for the artist to reflect on the inception of her artistic sensibility and its investigation into the materiality of colour. Their titles refer to familiar geometric Amish quilt patterns, created by women – waves, diamonds, the stripes of Joseph’s multi-coloured dream coat, flying geese, stars, log cabins and checker boards. Apfelbaum writes: ‘I usually work fast, but ceramics has slowed me down, the drawing comes first, then the painting after. Glazing is like painting and I really love doing it.’
Also included in the exhibition are four large-scale woollen floor pieces in a grayscale palette. Woven in Oaxaca, Mexico by Zapotec artisans indigenous to the region using their traditional weaving and dying methods, they use images from the artist’s earlier The Potential of Women series. The rugs depict a flattened, semi-abstract female face with a black bob hairstyle and reference an illustration which the artist came across for a 1963 book and symposium. Apfelbaum was fascinated by the book’s provocative and ultimately patronising message which imagined a future in which women might be useful contributors to society but completely neglected the current issues and demands of 1960s feminism. Over fifty years later, she borrowed both its graphic subject and its title, which served as the starting point to shine a light on the historical and contemporary dimensions of equality.
When planning this show, Apfelbaum was contemplating the empowerment of women and the concept of ‘women’s work’ whilst looking back at the optimism of the 60s and 70s in light of the recent regression in women’s rights in her native USA. This is the first time the artist has made monochrome rugs, the draining away of the colour perhaps reflecting our current times.