April 2: That piece of scrap on the side of the road is not garbage.
A t-shirt full of rips and rips, old pieces of cut rope and weather-worn leather still have value. For an artist, reusing waste materials like these is not necessarily about conservation, but rather about finding beauty in imperfection.
This is what Houston artist Emma Balder wants to represent in her new exhibition, “Eclectic Motion,” now on display at the Esther and John Clay Fine Art Gallery at Laramie County Community College.
Balder, a Denver native who now lives in Houston, collects and incorporates everything he can in this series, using unconventional techniques to put a clever twist on seemingly simple works of art.
“The fact (is) that it’s just these fragmented imperfections,” Balder said. “I’m thinking of a piece of fiber that swells, swells so unexpectedly. I think that contributes to its beauty.”
It is difficult to describe the work that Balder has compiled for “Eclectic Motion”. Half of the gallery is made up of three-dimensional paintings made of different materials patched together, similar to a quilt.
For these “sculptural paintings”, start with a blank, primerless canvas, onto which he paints something colorful and abstract. Only when he reaches the point where he couldn’t bear to destroy the painting, does he cut the canvas into fluid, irregular shapes.
“I’m creating these abstract paintings and then cutting them,” he said. “Sometimes in life we are really satisfied, and we feel comfortable, and then something comes and boom, we are forced to change.”
Balder doesn’t like when discarded items are referred to as “scraps”. The word implies an intrinsic loss of value, an opinion that Balder does not share.
Collect different fabrics, from rope to plain cotton cloth, sometimes found on the street, sometimes found while hiking or given to her by makers around the world. With the cut out canvas patches and various textile scraps, create a kind of sewn tapestry. In “Eclectic Motion”, these pieces are also padded and lined with foam obtained from old mattresses.
It’s an intuitive process, adding several patches until it feels the piece is complete. While he sees something personal in each creation, he realizes that his work evokes a sense of pareidolia that draws a different interpretation from each viewer.
“I think it really refers to this element of pareidolia, which I talk about a lot in my work,” he said. “It’s really prevalent. It’s the idea that it’s like a Rorschach test. Seeing something recognizable in something abstract, like seeing a face in the clouds.”
Pareidolia is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.”
The rest of the gallery is made up of “fiber paintings”, which, on the surface, appear to be traced, but there is more to the process than meets the eye.
Balder takes several strands of fiber, like small pieces of twine, and then drags those fibers through different colors of acrylic paint, creating what look like frayed strands of unrolled fabric.
With some strands still attached to the painting, Balder then uses a 3mm pencil to accentuate some lines. The paintings are like river channels of color that stretch across a white canvas.
Slightly different from these other two mediums are his “wind paintings”, which are deceptively similar to “fiber paintings”. For these, she stopped in an open, windy space and let the large sheet of paper blow her pencil against her, creating long, spontaneous lines and shapes. They are then covered with color.
There is, however, a common thread running through Balder’s artistic inspiration. Everything presented is abstract, colorful, subdued and rooted in his original childhood passion.
“I actually wanted to create my own clothes, I wanted to be in fashion design,” Balder said. “I had taken the class when I was in high school and I was going to college for fashion, where you were going to make a couple of clothes and things like that.
“As a child I always liked to cut my clothes. And so everything is back to square one.”
During her youth, dynamic art lessons taught her that painting is much more than painting on canvas. She could experiment and Balder knew that her heart was not in fashion, but in painting something that “wasn’t just painting”.
In the case of sculptures, for her they are creatures: eclectic communities that exist as microcosms of various influences and personal meaning. He stuffs them to give them a body, a life and an existence.
This ongoing experiment represents a turning point where it wants to branch out in artistic directions not crossed.
“They have to be dimensional and they have to take up space for other things to live within them,” he said.
The exhibition opened on Friday, but the opening event will take place on Monday at 1:30 pm Balder will then give a free speech at the Surbrugg / Prentice Auditorium at 2 pm
Will Carpenter is the arts and entertainment / features reporter for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 307-633-3135. Follow him on Twitter @will_carp_.