Review of Keeping On: Sandra Brownlee at MICA by Sean Ostrowski

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Keeping On, the current exhibit in MICA’s Meyerhoff Gallery, is an autobiographical body of work chronicling Sandra Brownlee’s journey of self-reflection through art making. The show initially appears separated into two parts, first as a section of three recently completed series and the latter as a collection of process and past work. The newer body consists of black and white quilted objects, depicting patterns reminiscent of indigenous Americans. Although the pieces of work are often large, (notable series Wandering Quilt towers over the viewer) they rely heavily on the color white and create soft, quiet spaces. Pockets of black, delicate lines are woven into the pieces, breaking up the empty fields and whisper stories to the audience.

While chasing the wisps of narrative across the first room, the viewer is led into the second, much larger, part of the gallery. With a burst of color and materials, it is clear Brownlee’s concept of quilting surpasses the realm of fibers. A variety of household items, including bits of clothing, pieces of graph paper, and knick knacks are “woven” together along the walls. A dress behind glass is hung sideways on the wall, and made of clearly defined sections of buttons, text, and fabric, can be mistaken as another “weaving.” A thin tapestry mimics this aesthetic, as colors slowly fade in and out with corresponding text. A floating shelf carries several books covered by Brownlee’s handmade bookjackets, each a piece of a larger quilt pattern.

The show finishes with a wall covered in framed notes and letters which physically and thematically complete the circle. Defying the norms of contemporary art’s distain for the obvious by embracing it, Brownlee spells out everything she wants to convey in her artwork. From notes on influential authors, friends, Buddhist and Taoist philosophers, she claims her work, “…create(s) tactile pages, playing with materials, techniques, and words to make concrete the vital elements of our experience. Manual imagination,” and uses the themes “creation as autobiography” and “textile(s) as metaphor for life.” Her honesty in these final pieces tie the show together. Keeping On is about what its name suggests, living life and recording every step of the way. Much like a journal, with each completed page a story and picture of the individual comes to fruition. By Brownlee’s constant creation does her goal of revealing herself as an artist start to materialize.

Author Sean Ostrowski is a MICA Graduate and Baltimore-based Designer, Artist, and Writer.

Sandra Brownlee: Keeping On will be on exhibit in MICA’s Fox Building Meyerhoff Gallery through February 10, 2013.

(detail from above)

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