At Galleri Urbane in Dallas, curator Benjamin Terry brings together three artists in a group exhibition centered around each artist’s unique method of pushing the boundaries in their creative process and challenging the materiality of their work. The silly-yet-literal title of the exhibition, Stack and Smoosh, refers to each artist’s technique of combining, layering, and flattening their materials together.
Claire Kennedy is a Fort Worth-based artist whose work hopscotches between painting, sculpture, collage, and installation. She uses a variety of mediums both traditional — oil, acrylic, and chalk pastel — and nontraditional, such as glitter, stickers, pom poms, and paper towels. It is the latter, more nontraditional materials that elicit a sense of casual artsy-craftiness, though there is clear intentionality in her work.
Within Kennedy’s compositions are many familiar shapes: sparkling stars, puffy clouds, crescent moons, plump raindrops, cutesy hearts, diamonds, waves, wings. The dreamy, childlike symbols make the little girl within me swoon. But just as there are recognizable motifs, there are also many unregulated forms that fit into no single category.
In Spiral Dots, a slightly asymmetrical and somewhat awkward plywood base immediately sets the piece apart from Kennedy’s other larger pieces in the gallery. Though the butterfly-like shape originally felt comforting, the more I looked at the work, the more it began to morph into an entirely new entity. From a distance, the larger dots seem to connect together, forming their own hypnotic spiral which ventures into the abyss outside of the canvas. Kennedy says that the work is loosely based on a drawing of an angel that her mother created as a kid, which still hangs in her childhood closet today. Given the shape, the large red pupil in the center, and the overall hypnotic nature of the piece, I cannot help but see a biblical angel within the abstraction.
Although Kennedy’s larger pieces are what originally caught my eye, upon further inspection the entire gallery is littered with smaller pieces and vinyl stickers stretching to the very corners of the room. Many of the these pieces go completely unnoticed, and unexpectedly finding one feels like you just entered an epic game of I spy. “My work is a hierarchy of moments,” says Kennedy. “ There are big, medium, and small punctuations everywhere.” It is those ‘punctuations’ that ever so subtly transform the gallery space into an installation. In the same respect, they also enhance and give meaning to the negative space between the larger ‘main’ pieces and the punctuations between them.
One of the smaller and perhaps less noticeable works on the wall, Wobble Shape, is a prime example of Kennedy’s whimsical nature. The two pom poms on either side of the sculpture were added during installation to cover, or rather to embellish, the nails holding the piece to the wall. “I like being really intentional with the hardware. You’re probably never going to see a nail showing and if you do, I’ve probably decorated it,” the artist shares. “The hardware is important, it’s a mark just like anything else.”
Much of Kennedy’s oeuvre is defined by its simplicity and simultaneous frankness. It is both ironically and unironically naive, but it is this inherent contradiction that gives it both playfulness and joy.
Niva Parajuli is an Austin-based artist who creates pixelated landscapes made from small bits of polymer clay crunched together and matted on a plywood base. Up close, the design appears systematic and geometric, forming a network of lines that cross in somewhat consistent intervals. But once you step back, the organic nature of the landscape emerges. Parajuli says he is inspired by his everyday environment. His piece Pink Blossoms derived from the cherry blossom trees that bloomed on the campus of Southern Methodist University, where he obtained his MFA in 2022.
Parajuli showcases the expressive power of color by arranging it in small fields of bright pinks, blues, greens, and yellows. Some of his work, like Pink Blossoms, forms precarious grids that feel woven together. Whereas other pieces, like Wildflowers II, are comprised of square plots of clay and astro turf, much like a patchwork quilt. His use of artificial grass, paired with his blocky clay compositions, feel straight out of a retro video game.
Megan Reed is a Los Angeles-based artist who reclaims discardable packaging materials, combining and reconstructing them into absurdist post-minimal relics. The irony behind the transformation of mass produced materials into symbolically significant and distinct art objects speaks directly to the consumerist, material-centered culture of the modern day. Although, this is hardly what would come to mind when you first approach the pieces with their chunky shapes and saturated color combinations.
When I first saw The Three Graces, which is one of two pieces propped on a dazzling yellow platform in the center of the gallery, my first thought was “that is the funkiest tombstone I’ve ever seen!” After learning that her work often references stone circles, cairns, and Cyclopean masonry, I realized I wasn’t too far off. The individual shapes within each work, each with its own bold color, have a distinct connection with one another; some shapes are actively stacked on top of each other vertically or horizontally, while others are given their own space to exist independently. But when merged together, they create a unique and striking form. Regardless of the compositions that Reed creates, it is the relationship between each block that gives the work its unmistakable energy and personality.
Despite Reed’s artmaking process of employing drawing and collage, her work may instinctively be categorized as sculpture. However, many of her pieces, such as Untitled (blue with red bar) are ‘wall-based.’ These pieces, jutting out from the pristine gallery wall, appear effortlessly suspended despite their bulky materials. Their plastic-like finish and lumpy texture are enticing and inviting, much like a shiny new toy.
Each artist in Stack and Smoosh comes from an entirely different mindset and process: Kennedy with her quirky yet sophisticated arts and crafts compositions, Parajuli with his puzzley, reminiscent landscapes, and Reed with her cartoonish bricolages of disposable debris. Together, their work generates a playful dialogue on disposition and materiality.
Stack and Smoosh is on view at Galleri Urbane in Dallas through March 25, 2023.
Emma S. Ahmad is an art historian and writer based in Dallas, TX.
I found stack & smoosh very interesting & quite unique. Great job of walking us through
Each art piece through the eyes of the artist.