The 17 works in Ann Shostrom’s exhibition, her first in New York in 18 years, are collectively called “Harvest.” They might be thought of as a harvest of internalized ideas operating in painting for as many years or more. In these works—essentially collages—Shostrom layers fabrics in unstretched yardage. Sometimes she paints on her piecemeal surfaces, but seldom in a painterly manner; more often she is reiterating or disrupting something in the found textiles. At times it’s difficult to distinguish between the preexisting patterns and those invented or altered by the artist. Looming large is the spirit of Robert Rauschenberg’s mid-1970s “Jammer” series, and there are echoes as well of Pattern and Decoration.
Shostrom takes compositional cues from her methods. She seems to be repairing and augmenting, obscuring and revealing as she goes. There is also in her procedure a feeling of personal ritual. Rectangles of opaque fabric are overlaid with others that are semitransparent. Inserts of square and irregularly shaped swatches, appliqués, embroidery and printed fabrics all play a role. She also uses a wax-resist method of coloration (similar to batik), sometimes to stunning effect. In addition to the classic formalist device of always referencing the edge with her many rectangles, she incorporates what appear to be photo-transfers and a freewheeling kind of calligraphic marking to complicate her iconography, which includes, here and there, a graffiti-style heart and a butterfly.
The simplest pieces, compositionally, are often the most rewarding. At the left edge of Satori (62 by 56 inches, 2010) is a narrow rectangle consisting of a dark camouflage pattern. A broader rectangle, placed centrally, is of a medium-value gray, and a medium-width rectangle to the right is a transparent fabric with little bunches of floral embroidery pattern over a solid purple textile, producing a pale mauve. An oval of the batik effect toward the top is somewhat subdued by a transparent overlay. Also present are a few watery Rorschach-blotlike stains and some dark markings calligraphically mimicking the fabric patterns. Satori feels as Asian as its title.
Quite different in execution and effect is Insurgency (68 by 116 inches, 2006), which plays a broad partial border of black, gray and white camouflage-patterned fabric off two central rectangles in black, orange and yellow. Irregular holes are torn or burned into the larger, blacker central rectangle and the fiery orange and yellow areas surrounding it. A mostly orange, fat rectangle with more signs of combustion is balanced by three slim, shiny brocade and satin rectangles. The work presents a vista of chaos and implied destruction.
Shostrom can obviously achieve vastly different effects. One wonders if it will be the simplicity and serenity of Satori or the noisy mayhem of Insurgency that prevails in the future.
Photo: Ann Shostrom: Satori, 2010, cotton, acrylic, embroidery and mixed mediums, 62 by 56 inches; at Elizabeth Harris.