Artists Lillian Warren, Michael Crowder and Joan Son trade praise and inspiration at the Caroline Collective

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Detail of Michael Crowder's "Mariposa mori"


Talking with artists is how I refresh my vision. Being in a room with artists talking to each other works even better, which is why, on a whim, I invited Crowder, Warren and Son to spend an hour in a room with me one sunny Friday afternoon at the Caroline Collective. My choice of these particular visual artists was not random. All three are in highly active stages in their careers.

Crowder’s work dwells in history, memory and the museum itself as a history-maker. He has just returned from a residency in India called “Buddha Enlightened – to be,” held in the village of Bodh Gaya in the northeastern state of Bihar near Tibet. Warren has recently made a huge shift in the look and feel of her work. And origami master Son has been venturing out of her folding cocoon.

All have upcoming or current exhibits, and nothing gets an artist out of the studio and eager to talk about their work like a new show.

Warren’s Urban Landscapes at Rudolph Blume Fine Art/ArtScan Galleryruns through June 4. Son’s Part Geometry, Part Zen: A Personal Exploration through Paper continues through August 13 at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC). Crowder is part of a special exhibit to coincide with the American Association of Museums Conferenceon May 22-25 at Wade Wilson Art, where he will be showing a condensed version of his L’heure bleue installation. Crowder’s work is also included in Crafting Live(s): 10 years of Artists-in-Residence, June 11-September 3 at the HCCC.

“You are all geek craftsmen, in that there’s such a meticulous nature to all of your work,” I told the three, with mixed results. I had to explain myself a bit. “What I meant to say is that you are all really good at what you do,” I said, rephrasing my thought. That went over better.

I’ve been a fan of Warren’s surreal urban landscapes for years, so when I heard she has making a shift, I wanted to call her up and say, “Hey, I like your old work, what’s with all the changing?” A selfish thought indeed.

“Nothing is worse than wanting to make a change in your work and not making it,” admits Warren, who is a firm believer now in minding the muse. The painter’s new work is less controlled, more whimsical, with more left up to the viewer to fill in the blanks. Color is spare, unpredictable and bold. Gone is every detail about a particularly eerie traffic light and convenience store. We only get half of the picture now, with a more active hand.

“These are drawings,” says Warren, who is growing more comfortable with the look of her new work.

“The paint has a mind of its own. It pools and runs and creates all kinds of interesting shapes,” says Warren. “The images evoke all kinds of issues for me: Personal isolation and conformity; what would happen if one decided to go against the flow; environmental and societal issues of urban sprawl and dependence on hydrocarbons; our thoughtless obsession with personal independence and convenience; how we as a society shape the environment and then it begins to shape us. Yet, the subject matter of elevating something ordinary like a traffic scene remains a constant.”

Change is a much subtler thing for Crowder. “I don’t really change — my materials change, but there’s a continuum to all my work,” he says, showing us pieces from A Sense of History, an installation that addresses a museum of memory.

Attracted to the most ephemeral materials, such as glass, sugar, paraffin and ashes, Crowder carefully constructs objects which possess a pervasive fragility, a lightness in their presence, almost dream-like. Crowder’s perfect replica of a gramophone crafted from glass has us all transfixed. An elegant sugar bowl feels as if its sugar particles would crumble if we even exhaled near it.

The temporal nature of Crowder’s work is a built-in aesthetic. Elevating simple objects like a balloon, also made from glass, forms part of his mission. We all want to touch his pieces. “That’s the point, the seduction of the object under glass, making it even more precious,” quips Crowder.

Son’s enthusiasm for paper parallels Crowder’s interest in delicate materials. “We throw paper away,” says Son. With a structure borrowed from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray, Love, Son’s newest work investigates everyday objects too, with a deeply personal approach to her media.

I gasp when Son shows us a dramatically crumbled piece of paper dabbed in gold. “Why, that’s not even folded,” I told Son, who is known for her intricate origami pieces. “I know,” Son replies, smiling mischievously. She goes on to reveal more of her new work, some of which even involves unfolding. Son describes herself as “crazy for paper,” whether it be a rare piece of Japanese washi or a lottery ticket. “It’s been a scavenger hunt for me every day, even in my own studio, putting this exhibit together,” she says.

Each takes turns showing each other their most recent work, asking questions, trading praise. Some common threads surface. All three work every day with a sense of diligence. Yet, as we travel through images on their laptops, it becomes increasingly apparent how differently each approach their media and process.

We bid farewell, exchange postcards and promise to keep in touch. I am left with the idea that change happens every time an artist turns to their media. The world is altered by their efforts. I return to my empty conference room, which now feels blessed, charged and well, changed by its recent inhabitants and their images. Art is like that.

Reprinted from Culturemap


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