26 March 2014

Merrill Comeau - Fragments of Eden fabric collage

Viewing the large-scale fabric collages.

On its last day, DH and I, with friends Robin and Alex, visited an exhibit at the Danforth Museum, Merrill Comeau: Fragments of Eden, on view from November 17, 2013 through February 23, 2014. Ms. Comeau, an artist from Concord, Massachusetts, creates large-scale collages using, or upcycling in today's parlance, textiles with a history. These might include worn blue jeans, old sheets, plastic mesh produce bags, a mother-in-law's blouse and fabric samples of discontinued patterns.  Comeau stitches these pieces, either by hand or machine, as found, or alters them by printing or painting on the surface.  In her  Fragment of Eden series, Ms. Comeau has created gardens from remnants and rags. 

Fragment of Eden I.

In most of the works, the collaged elements never quite physically coalesce into a contiguous whole, but remain fragmentary. The impression is of a kind of fabric Pangaea, the ancient supercontinent from which our modern continents formed as Pangaea slowly broke up and drifted apart. 

The irregular interstices between the collaged elements reveal the gallery walls, coated with the standard gallery-issue bright white paint.  This formal whiteness is a bit jarring amongst the  almost archaeologically layered fragments; it would be interesting to see these same works mounted on walls painted greige, the color of "gray goods," the name for fabric as it comes off the loom but before bleached, dyed or colored.

Fragment of Eden I, detail.

Ms. Comeau has a deft hand with form and color, conjuring the papery fragility of a red poppy with nothing more than a scrap of red, a snippet of black and a few well-placed stitches. 

Fragment of Eden IV, Poppies, detail.

In Fragment of Eden IV, Poppies, the panels are more or less rectilinear, with vertical strips of white gallery walls revealed; the effect is of a wonderful curtain, or veil, of color and pattern built up over time. 

Fragment of Eden IV, Poppies, detail.

Her work accomplishes the harder-than-it-looks task of combining commercially printed fabrics successfully with the artist's own printed or painted designs; in less expert hands such a combination can look awkward, but Ms. Comeau blends her materials seamlessly even while her stitching itself retains a rough-and-ready immediacy.

Fragment of Eden IV, Poppies, detail.

Bessie's Bodice Ripper.

One of the newer pieces, Bessie's Bodice Ripper, while made of fragments, is not itself in fragments, although the use of sheer fabric remnants, such as net and voile, as the upper edge of the composition keeps the boundaries fluid and in flux. The trailing threads  - bodice lacings? - at the bottom edge seem a bit too literal, perhaps.

Bessie's Bodice Ripper, detail.

Another newer work is the installation piece Women's Work is Never Done. Here, the white wall functions brilliantly as a scaffolding for the dark-dyed bits and pieces, just as frameworks of time - the 24-hour day, the seven-day week - bracket all the tasks small and large, completed and unfinished, with which every woman is confronted.

Women's Work is Never Done.

Women's Work is Never Done, detail.