Shifting Perspectives

Martha MacLeish’s work in Manifest show a multi-dimensional wonder

Apr 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Martha MacLeish of Indiana University's Fine Arts faculty allows her work to break exuberantly into three dimensions in Shape Shift: Recent Works, at Manifest Gallery through May 13. MacLeish's art, whether two- or three-dimensional, is concerned with “aspects that raise questions and create tension,” her artist's statement says. The thing she doesn't mention is the joyful sense of life these works convey, a bursting, vibrant delight of echoing forms and interacting colors.

Looking at this show on a rainy day, as I did, is like having the sun come out.

The colors, which appear mostly in narrow bands, are in-your-face bright, the painted ones glorying in being acrylic while others result from the lamination of colored layers. MacLeish works with sheets of polyvinyl-chloride plastic to make panels, hollow structures and solid forms that manage to suggest motion despite being fixed objects. Her work is a vindication of human-made materials, taking advantage of their inherent qualities rather than making them look like something else. This is accomplished by workmanship of the highest quality, so self-effacing that you're hardly aware of how well these pieces are made.

MacLeish has appeared at Manifest before; in November 2009, she had a stunning, all-white sculpture in the exhibition Shaped. Following that appearance, she submitted a proposal to the gallery for a solo show, resulting in Shape Shift.

Perhaps my favorite piece in the exhibition is “Shrug” (2009), wall-mounted, with a fine upward thrust and a varied contour that gives the piece a new aspect with any shift in viewpoint. It's the only work to include acrylic plastic panels, looking sleek and handsome here. On the facing wall to “Shrug” is “Dog Watch” (2009), in which related shapes are picked out by gray and white bands enlivened in places by red, yellow and tan. The work is rife with subtle interactions between forms, between colors and between form and color.

The most spectacular of the five works in the show is “Somersault” (2009). One section has a curve of laminate polyvinyl-chloride plastic that seems barely tethered to the wall but is in fact very heavy (I was told), anchored by a serious hunk of metal seen only if you peer behind. The crescent-shaped additional section has separated itself — by somersault perhaps? — escaping to the floor where it gleams in green, yellow and gray stripes that are painted, not laminated. Gallery Director Jason Franz says “Somersault” will be included in Manifest Gallery's International Painting Annual 1, a sister publication to its International Drawing Annual, slated to appear in June or July.

On the floor in the center of the gallery, four individual pieces make up “Things seen are things as seen” (2011), and indeed how these forms are seen alters from one viewpoint to another, their interaction changing as well. Each is a curve of laminated polyvinyl-chloride plastic, individually striped and touching one neighbor so that there are, in effect, two pairs making up the work. The greens of one piece feed into the blue-greens of the other in one of the couples, and oranges mutate into reds in the second pair. Like most pieces, these seem to convey a sense that movement has been stopped mid-course.

The least successful work in the show, “Trace Route” (2009), lacks that sense in its upper section, where vertical lines of differing breadth are marked by indentations like tooth marks. The relation of so static an element to the curving yellow base is not apparent to me; I miss the grace that marks the other works.

Three Cincinnatians — Constantina Dendramis, Brenda Tarbell and Christopher Weigold — made the cut to be among the 17 artists included in the accompanying exhibition, FIRED: A View of Ceramics. More than 150 artists responded to the gallery's call for entries, restricted only in that the object must be ceramic. The result is a lively look at what is being done today in a medium that dates far back in human history. Most of the artists have thrown off pragmatic functions for sculptural ends, sometimes with playful results.

SHAPE SHIFT:: RECENT WORKS BY MARTHA MACLEISH is up through May 13. Manifest Gallery (2727 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills), is open 2-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 12-5 p.m. Saturday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.