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Bard Features

Piecing Art Together: Stephen Sollins ’90

Image
Stephen Sollins ’90
Photo by Justine Cooper
In the Bardian

In his solo show, Piecework, at Smack Mellon Gallery in Brooklyn, Stephen Sollins ’90 exhibited five large works on paper—the size of full- and queensized bed quilts—made from used mailing envelopes. Each work was meticulously constructed with hidden seams, creating three-dimensional structures beneath the surface, much like those in traditional fabric quilts. An unusual marriage of anachronism and modernism, the patterned design of quilts and detailed envelope interiors embodied, for Sollins, geometric abstractions that predate Geometric Abstraction. “I am interested in using the geometry, grids, and systematic approaches of high modern, minimal, and conceptual art, in part to show how they do and do not relate to more popular and sentimental forms.”

Source material is key to Sollins’s art. In Piecework, envelopes and quilts also intersect as devices of cover, referencing his longstanding interest in domesticity and anonymity. Sollins has been working for more than a decade with found materials that evoke the domestic sphere—Scotch tape, worn household linens, handkerchiefs, television schedules, newspapers, daily mail. “Sometimes it takes years to figure out how a source material can be used to express the ideas I’m thinking about,” he says. Those ideas—sentimentality versus silence and noncommunication, the urge to be known versus the reluctance to divulge too much, the split between private and public—synthesize Sollins’s work, which traverses a wide range of media. “About every two years, what my work looks like changes. The subject matter holds it all together. I find myself circling around the same issues and coming at those ideas from different directions.”

When Sollins entered Bard he thought of himself as a poet and took classes with Robert Kelly, Asher B. Edelman Professor of Literature. However, he soon moderated into photography, studying with Stephen Shore, Susan Weber Professor in the Arts, and Professor of Photography Larry Fink. He went on to study with Joel Sternfeld as a graduate student at the School of Visual Arts in New York. At the time, he was interested in making work that dealt with the subject of loss, and struggled with conveying his ideas through the camera. Sollins experimented with abstraction, taking pictures of “mute” surfaces, such as a blank wall, but that did not satisfy him. “It was a failing of mind more than a failing of medium,” he says. Sternfeld gave him license and encouragement to experiment with any media he could find that would express his ideas. Sollins put down his camera and has yet to pick it back up. He began working with Scotch tape as a transfer medium, pulling off ink from daily newspapers and found photographs to create drawings. He produced 30 Drawings and Last Portraits, which were chronological sequences of the portraits printed in the obituary section of the New York Times, using this process.

Sollins’s art has been supported by fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Smack Mellon, and is in collections at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Brooklyn Museum, and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, among others. Unrestricted by medium, he is continually exploring new ways of working. Static is a series of works on paper made from redacting sequences of newspaper television schedules with correction fluid or black ink, leaving a systematic organization of information over time. “I was interested in process time and how, in a contemporary art process, repetitive mark making, when pursued over time, results in something greater than its parts.” The MoMA owns Static #4 from this series. Another series, Untitled (Threadsuns), is an installation of 105 vintage white handkerchiefs embroidered with the shape of the uneven right-hand edge of each poem from Paul Celan’s Threadsuns—making visible the rhythms of silence, the intakes of breath between one utterance and another.

Piecework was the culmination of four years’ worth of work and exploration. “Discovering the history of American quilt making hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s a staggering quantity and quality of abstract work,” says Sollins, who immerses himself completely in whatever medium he is at work in. “I’m thrilled to be coming to end of an odyssey and excited to see what is next. I have a studio with white walls, which is very thrilling.”

Read the spring 2013 issue of the Bardian:



Post Date: 07-09-2013