With gorgeous color, ebullient natural imagery (birds, butterflies, flowers) and harmonious designs, Trudy Kraft’s “Emergence” at Gross McCleaf is pure visual happiness.
Kraft’s third solo show at the gallery continues the artist’s exploration of the cosmic inter-connectedness of things. Influenced by cultural traditions in Japan, Africa, Thailand and India, Kraft’s easel-sized works on paper feature colorful, repeat-pattern borders that surround a nature-centric image. Kraft, using watercolor, ink, gouache (a dense form of watercolor) and frisket (a masking material), paints with gusto, skill and creativity. Each work is a journey taken by the artist into the place where intuition meets skill to become something new. And she’s giving the viewer ample opportunity to take those myriad journeys with her. And each piece is a celebration of energy by an artist for whom art is an expression of positivism.
Kraft builds her images by layering colors and masking some areas, then adding more color on top. Mysterious depths abound in the background patterns; you could spend hours studying their intricacies. The nature-themed images are drawn with a kind of folk-art stiffness. Yet there’s no need to render realistically the muscles, feathers and beak of a bird when the idea is to recreate a bird’s dream. “Emergence #9,” one of the best works in the show, is a dreamy twilight landscape encircled by a bright patterned border. Butterflies, stars and dots populate the purplish sky, hung with a bejeweled orange sun. The sky seems translucent, containing many hidden layers beneath several veils. On the ground are extraordinarily hued large and small birds with fantastical patterns on their feathers. Swirling above them are butterflies of all colors and sizes. The work has a mystical feel that both bestirs and calms the longer you study it; images of quilts, rugs and embroidered Kantha clothes come to mind.
But not all of Kraft’s works have these similarities. Delightfully, “Emergence #8” veers off into a different direction. Instead of the enormous depth suggested in many of the other works, here, no depth of field exists—just a riot of pattern and color, all on the surface and all competing for attention. There is a small image of a red flower in the center, but this painting wants you to focus on the colors, patterns and borders within borders that surround that flower. Its psychedelic patterns allow the eye and mind to take a journey.
Worth mentioning for its cool colors in a show of otherwise hot hues, “Emergence #12” features an iconic plant sprouting three dreamy flowers, each with a sparkling sapphire center from which yellow lines radiate. The flowers are like eyes—hypnotic, mesmerizing. Oddly, this piece feels ever-so-slightly menacing. It suggests something too hot to touch.
If Kraft’s universe is one of order and energy, Joan Becker’s exhibit in the back gallery focuses on beautiful disorder. Becker’s watercolors—painted with amazing skill in a difficult, unforgiving medium—depict people dressed in carnival attire who don’t look so happy. And her nature studies, “Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn,” “Winter” suggest a world where disorder is a seduction that lies just around each corner. Check it out to learn more.
Trudy Kraft’s “Emergence” and Joan Becker’s “Watercolors”
Through March 26. Gross McCleaf Gallery, 127 S. 16th St. 215.665.8138. grossmccleaf.com
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