The Brownsville Museum of Fine Art is located about five minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas. Feeling Feelings, an exhibit of fiber works at the museum by Harlingen-based artist Rachel Comminos, examines a different kind of border. Featured in the show are abstract compositions in hand tufted yarn, which were made while Comminos, then pregnant with her son, processed the fine line separating her experiences as an artist, woman and mother.
As Comminos’ artist statement for the exhibit explains, “I translate my deep dives of self-exploration into beauty, repetition, pattern, and texture by creating these physical objects.” Upon entering the gallery, I was immediately drawn to an untitled piece that features rippling lines of pink and blue that almost produce the illusion of movement. This effect was compounded by the various textures of fabric protruding from the wall. The colors used here seem to suggest a reflection on the duality of masculine and feminine, with the earthy yellow tones providing a sense of groundedness to the overall composition.
Notable points of reference here lie somewhere between the 1960’s op art of Bridget Riley and the philosophies of early abstract expressionists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Hilma af Klint, which were concerned with color theory, the spiritual, the unconscious, and the mind. Of those, perhaps the reference to Kandinsky is most interesting, considering his association with the German Bauhaus school of the early 20th century that combined the study of crafts and fine arts.
Most of the work in Feeling Feelings is untitled, leaving the interpretation of the abstract compositions largely up to the viewer. And while there is an effective use of color and control of pictorial space in most of the compositions, not all the work is visually and conceptually concise. For example, one of the untitled compositions features what look like water droplets placed chaotically in varying shades of orange and blue. There is not enough information present to clearly derive how this piece relates to a theme, whether from Comminos’ artist statement or otherwise. Perhaps Comminos could further explore themes of “familial penchant[s] for crafting” and processing “trials, tribulations, and upsets” through the deconstruction of materials or by some other conceptual means. I am reminded of Banksy’s Welcome Mat, an edition of hand-stitched mats using the fabric from life vests abandoned on Mediterranean beaches by Middle-Eastern refugees.
It is also possible that the strategic placement of the artwork in the gallery does indeed function conceptually. A composition with discordant qualities, placed between a pair of effectively balanced forms can work as a counterpoint, referencing the artist’s need to continually “go through it” in order to achieve creative breakthroughs. Alternatively, as an artwork titled Soup for My Family may suggest, Comminos’ primary interests might lie in practical matters, such as that of a person’s ability to making a living and provide.
Founded in 1935 by a group of eight women who met weekly to discuss their passion for art, the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art is a fitting space for Feeling Feelings, which continues a dialogue that began 87 years ago.
Rachel Comminos: Feeling Feelings is on view through Friday, July 22, 2022 at the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art in Brownsville, Texas. An artist talk with Rachel Comminos will happen on Thursday, July 21 at 6 pm.