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Frayed boundaries at Carmarthen museum

May 30, 2017

Before I start, I should perhaps declare a conflict of interest. Karen Wise is in fact my mother. I pondered this conflict of interest for a full thirty seconds before realising how dissapointed she might be if I ommitted to review her show. With that in mind, read on.

‘Frayed boundaries’, showing on the upper floor of Carmarthen museum, is a masterly and varied exhibition of textile art. The artists, Marysia Penn and Karen Wise, have provided both forward-looking and interesting pieces obviously influenced by modernism and a wealth of consummately executed visual delights.

Perhaps the most consummate pieces by Marysia Penn are her works in appliqué, ‘Merlin’s Oak’ and ‘The yew trees at Nevern’, two pieces that refer to local mythology. They are cunningly composed pieces in rich, autumnal colours that show a real feeling for both movement, in the depiction of dance in ‘the yew trees at Nevern’ and serene stateliness in ‘Merlin’s Oak’. Looking for the forms of dancers in the yew trees provides an entertaining visual game that enhances the enjoyment of the piece.

Her piece ‘Llanelli sunset’ is very lovely. The thin layers of material have a translucency that provides great visual interest. A simple piece, perhaps, but the artful simplicity of the composition belies a complex, layered execution that keeps you looking deeper still.

Mauricia Penn even develops into three dimensional expression in this exhibition. A series of pieces such as ‘the magic cornu aspersum’ and ‘phi(garden snail) use the shell of the humble garden snail as a stage for colourful, delightful visual effects that also touch on mathematical ideas. The snail shells are treated like little jewels.

Marysia is obviously influenced by modernism too. The piece ‘the colour of music’ recalls most clearly Kandinsky in its wonderfull expressive felted loops. For me though, her strongest piece is ‘Bishop’s Chapel’ that uses themes from eccliesiastical architecture to achieve an effect that is solemn without being melancholy. The backlighting works wonderfully, enhancing the contemplative, well-organised structure of the piece.

Karen Wise also seems to have taken on ideas from the world of twentieth century associative abstraction in a series of embroideries about music, depicting works by Bach with a real sense of rhythm and a subdued but effective colour scheme. These are complex works, often on a large scale, that demand long looking and in-depth analysis.

The Cordoba series shows the same restrained and tasteful use of colour, but with a more nuanced, orderly sense of design. The ‘Moorish Gardens’ show a thoughtful use of pattern and repetition that really does recall the moorish works these pieces draw inspiration from.

In another series on the story of Gryfudd Ap Llywelyn, an early medieval Welsh hero whom Karen Wise has written a novel about, the jewel-like finishes of the relatively simple compositions work to create an effect that enhances the mythic, folkloric quality of the story told. The direct visual approach often masks an intricate subtlety of conceptual expression, such as in the piece where each bead represents a man killed in an important battle. ‘The Battle of Snowdon’ offers a powerful visual metaphor, the counterpoint of red and white working to great effect. The artist has used visual tropes that draw directly on the experience of visiting museums and public collections, appropriately enough given the venue. For instance, mounting the pieces on red felt and green velvet gave a great ‘museum feel’ to the collection.

All in all, it’s well worth making the visit to Carmarthen Museum to see all of this. There’s enough here to interest, educate and entertain, offering a rich, tactile and visual experience. Frayed Boundaries is on Show at Carmarthen museum ( until the 14th of July.


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One Comment
  1. Nicely written, glad your conflict only lasted 30 seconds

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