Tapestry artist Julia Mitchell and her sculpting and drawing sister Lucy Mitchell have collaborated for an exhibit at Oak Bluffs’ A Gallery. “A Studio Guide to Nature” is their first joint show. The work emanates from “our favorite artists, natural and art history, travels, forms of museum display, prehistoric markings, contemporary walking artists,” the Mitchells write in their joint artists’ statement. The exhibit is a tour de force of art and interaction.
The artists curated their own show, not usually the practice at A Gallery. They create in entirely different media and styles. The art, which spans three walls and some floor space at the gallery, is organized into depictions of air, wood, water, and rock. “Here also are liminal places, the interface of land and sea, above and below ground, night and day, sleeping and waking,” the artist statement reads. “This is what we do: go outside and observe our surroundings, then bring impressions into our respective studios where we reinterpret, represent, and preserve them as artifacts. It is a way of presenting a fragment of the world to be regarded as distinctly individual and startling.”
The work is displayed in pairs, and in most cases, includes an inspirational word on the wall nearby. Julia begins with a triptych titled “Grass.” She has placed an array of yellow-tan wild grasses in waters meandering through marsh. While representational, “Grass” also has a subtly abstract quality. Leaning in the corner next to “Grass” is “Painted Sticks,” three tall sticks covered with tiny black designs painted by the artist. The sculptures are a pleasing union of nature and artistic rendering. “They are very practical in their names,” A Gallery owner Tanya Augoustinos said. “They leave the interpretation to the observer.”
Next is Lucy’s signature “Beach Collection,” a large white box mounted on the wall with 20 small compartments, each containing a littoral object finished with shellac and gesso and covered with watercolored paper. This assemblage resonates with meticulous detail. Next to Lucy’s “Gourd Collection” is Julia’s “Blue Irises.” This tapestry, made in silk, wool, and linen, is on loan from the Vineyard Haven Public Library. Two blue irises command the left-hand side of the work, with pale green grasses planted in zigzag linear rows on the other side in a beige background. Again, this hanging combines the representational (the irises) with a more abstract, geometrical sense in the way the grasses are arranged.
For Lucy’s “Volumes,” hardwood, booklike rectangles stand in a circle on a black box. The viewer is drawn in to decipher what is written on the books. Combining tiny elements with larger images characterizes many of this artist’s sculptures and assemblages. “Cave Weaving” in the “earth” section is the largest of Julia’s tapestries. The Lascaux Caves in southwestern France inspired this powerful work with its outlines of large, bovine animals.
The interactive pairings in the exhibit include Julia’s tapestry “Green Seaweed,” hanging above Lucy’s “Six Green Sticks (Stick Collection).” “A Working Cartoon,” a large, wall-hung paper rectangle, is next to these works, and is an extension of their collaboration. It contains an outline of Lucy’s seaweed drawing, “Polysiphonia Elongata.” Julia placed this under the threads of her loom as a guide. The paper is also covered with a geometric arrangement of small colored balls of the yarn Julia uses in her tapestries. “A Working Cartoon” shows how Lucy’s drawing has been enlarged to the scale needed for the tapestry. Finally, in an example of how the collaborative process has worked, Julia’s finished tapestry incorporates textures drawn from Lucy’s work.
“A Field Guide to Nature” will be on display through August 17. For more information, visit agallerymv.com.