Art Insider: Fashion ads become intricate drawings, toilet paper holders are political

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At 82, Helen Rae is as prolific as ever, interpreting fashion ads into her own singular vision. Toilet paper holders convey a political message. Line drawings made in a meditative state convey a buzzing energy.

Helen Rae at Tierra Del Sol Gallery

Helen Rae, “Untitled (March 10, 2020).” Graphite and color pencil on paper, 2020, 24 x18.” Image courtesy of Tierra del Sol Gallery

Tierra del Sol is a nonprofit that empowers people with developmental disabilities through workforce, career, and arts development. Their Chinatown gallery outpost specifically features artists who work in the center’s art studios. 

Currently on view is a new exhibition of colored pencil drawings by the artist Helen Rae. The drawings, which take fashion ads as their source material, are masterfully composed. As Rae presses colored pencil to paper, she re-interprets the haute couture women she depicts, adding intricately striated patterns. She widens faces, broadens shoulders, elongates necks, and embellishes clothing. Through her bold colors, cubist compositions, and intricate linework, Rae infuses each subject with a deep and pensive emotion that seems to connect directly with the viewer — an intensity not often found when flipping through the latest issue of Vogue. 

Helen Rae working at the Tierra del Sol Studio. Image courtesy of Tierra del Sol Gallery

Helen Rae didn’t start making art until she was in her 50s, and now she can’t stop. Gallerist Paige Wery explains in a walkthrough video that “she hadn’t really done any fine art making before her mom signed her up for the Tierra del Sol art program. She came and started learning from scratch how to draw, and really became an amazing artist.” 

Rae has been nonverbal and deaf since birth, but since finding art, she’s been drawing Monday through Friday at the Tierra del Sol. Since COVID-19, the center has stopped offering in-person classes, and most students are connecting with each other and their art mentors at the center via Zoom. When it became clear that Zoom was a challenge for Rae, Tierra del Sol started taking a table, chair, and drawing materials to the group home where Rae lives. She is now able to continue making art every day in her front yard. “ She's responding well and happy to be back at work,” Wery explains.    

On view: September 4 – October 23, 2020

“Under / Over” at Marta

“Under / Over” at Marta. Image courtesy of Marta gallery

At Marta gallery, a humble yet familiar subject is featured in their new exhibition  “Under / Over” : toilet paper. Fondly nicknamed “The T.P. Holder Show” for this exhibition, the gallery invited 53 artists and designers to create bespoke toilet paper holders. Each design explores a sense of play around the often-overlooked bathroom fixture. Toilet paper rolls dangle from chains and springs, spin on tops, and are contained by wooden cages and elaborately designed geometries. One work by BNAG looks like an oversized tongue that the roll unassumingly sits on. 

“The bathroom is a site of social + environmental politics,” the press release declares. A large impetus for the exhibition, which is co-hosted by Plant Paper , a nontoxic bamboo toilet paper brand, is to raise awareness around the toxicity of conventional fluffy, plastic-wrapped toilet paper. “27,000 trees are flushed down the toilet each day,” the gallery explains. This is along with a suite of toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and bleach. 

Furthermore, the gallery details that the Koch brand controls 29% of the market in North America, and the company has “funneled millions of dollars into voter suppression, the aiding and growth of the Prison Industrial Complex, and the reversal of common-sense environmental protections.” The exhibition provides a potent reminder ahead of the November election that our everyday actions, no matter how banal, can be agents for political change.

On view: September 10 – November 1, 2020

Brian Randolph at Odd Ark LA

“Red Book,” 2020. Colored pencil on paper mounted on wood panel, 17 x 22 inches. Photo credit:
Ruben Diaz

Brian Randolph’s drawings, on view at Odd Ark in his solo show “The Septum,” contain palpable energy. The artist begins by drawing grids onto white paper that he then fills with serpentine filigrees that wind and overlap in methodical columns. The deeply-hued colors backgrounding his linework are applied corner to corner with colored pencils, which the artist buffs out to create a subtle sheen. The curvaceous lines have the density and precision of op art, yet there is a subtle intimacy that can be felt through the slight inconsistencies and gentle color gradations. It’s as if the artist’s own meditative and focused energy while creating these works gets transferred to the viewer via some alchemical magic. 

The artist explains in the press release that he chose the split composition for this show to represent “the connection between two people, and the sense of our ever-forking path, the choice we are presented with each moment. … Our experience is a binary of hemispheres, always bonded and facing each other in a critical feedback relationship with one another, amounting to what we mostly experience as a unified whole."

On view: September 12 – October 17, 2020

Art shows are opening for appointments, while some are leaning in further to the digital space  

Labyrinth” (installation view) (2020). Image courtesy of the artists and EPOCH, Los Angeles

As art exhibitions begin to open for by-appointment viewing, some are committed to the digital space for the long haul. Last week I talked to Steve Chiotakis about two new exhibitions — one physical and in-person, the other virtual and experiential. We discuss Maija Peeples-Bright at Parker Gallery, a “nut and funk” artist who’s known for her bright colors and whimsical creatures she calls “beasties.” 

Virtually, there’s EPOCH , which was started by artist Peter Wu+ during the pandemic as a response to the onslaught of digital art experiences that were initially popping up. Wu+ has done a handful of shows and each is located in a different VR setting for the artwork. It makes the experience feel more like a video game than going to see a gallery.   

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