Friday, March 2, 2007

Marie Watt's Blankets

Visiting Boston several years ago, my wife and I happened upon a Newbury Street gallery exhibiting contemporary works constructed with fabric. Among them were Marie Watt’s small blanket pieces, the first of her blanket constructions that I had seen. I hungered for more.

The announcement of Marie Watt’s new show at PDX Contemporary Art in Portland, Oregon, arrived in my mail this week. I wish I could travel to Portland for the show. Instead, I’ll pour over images of Watt’s work on the gallery website.

Watt, a Portland-based Seneca artist, draws on Native American traditions and materials. “I am interested in human stories and rituals implicit in everyday objects,” she has written. “I find myself attracted to the blanket’s two- and three-dimensional qualities. On a wall, a blanket functions as a tapestry, but on a body it functions as a robe and living art object.” Her interest in everyday objects and the varied dimensionality of the medium bring to mind Jasper Johns, especially his groundbreaking flag and target paintings of the 1950s. Like Johns, Watt’s blankets play off oppositions: formal/informal and public/private. And like Johns, the blankets carry with them communal meanings associated with Native American traditions. Unlike Johns’ use of communal, depersonalized symbols (the American flag, the bull’s eye), Watt’s blankets also evoke associations with our most intimate and vulnerable activities. Tension created between these evocations and the rigorous formalism of Watt's constructions give her work extraordinary power.

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