Humble Sophistication

Humble Sophistication

Siobhan Liddell’s quiet, natural lushness

The well made, the machine made, and the expertly crafted have retaken ground in studio practice these days. These gestures seem equally matched by those efforts resulting in the nearly made and barely crafted. Allison Smith comes to mind when thinking of the former category. Gedi Sibony in the latter.

We know tons of great work happens in between, and this fact sheds light on the failure of strategic aesthetic positioning, by viewer and artists alike, to designate greatness in art. In the end, it simply puts a new face on the kind of heroic purity so much post-modernism made great effort to dismantle.

A hopeful alternative can be found in “Liminal,” the apt title of Siobhan Liddell’s current exhibition at CRG Gallery. It’s a collection of works made with no particular interest in gaining permission to operate in various media, or to varying degrees of material expertise. Yet Liddell achieves both quite naturally. Moving easily about the studio, she invites us into the realm of her ideas without insisting that we spend time wondering about the conceptual machinations and intentionality of one move or another. There’s an intense confidence evidenced in Liddell’s often humble and quiet oeuvre.

To be quite honest, this is work I would rather not describe. There is a lushness to the intelligence and perceptual experience offered in this exhibition that truly moves language aside. It is especially present in “Array” and “Pitch Black Ignorance,” two large acrylic and cut paper compositions on canvas in which the artist displays an amazingly expert use of texture, color, and concrete light. Yet Liddell invites language into the mix. “False Sense of Security,” spelled out with 253 clear plastic pushpins, wraps around the internal corner of the gallery. The ubiquitous little pins actually cast shadows if you look long enough, past their annoying commonplace character, past the language, and then back again to the statement. Yes, thinking we know what we see, and what we read, can indeed be a false sense of security.

It is these seemingly tiny thresholds of cognition that Liddell expands for us. The artist seems to suggest that if we trace the movement of her eyes and hands we might train ourselves toward a more alert and subtle awareness. It’s a reminder that this kind of sophisticated awareness always retains its humble, most human roots. Like the eight small ceramic works in the exhibition, none is more than 12 inches in diameter. Each with slightly cryptic titles, made with the most rudimentary clay handling techniques. All are formed with fingers and palms, to pinch, poke, join, flatten, and probe. Not a bad set of skills to have if one took them on as conceptual tools.