Thirty-two years ago, the Bauhaus-schooled artist and textile designer Anni Albers made Study for DO II, (1973), a shimmering mélange of small parallelograms and triangles. Colored in with shades of either silver or yellow gouache on blueprint paper, the work seems preparatory, almost casual: lines appear unruled, and shapes vary in size and skew. Brushstrokes haphazardly emerge and recede into flat color. One year later, Albers refined this pattern and christened it Eclat, which was subsequently manufactured and sold as an upholstery fabric by the design firm Knoll.
In 2009, Ellen Lesperance painted 1921, Annie Fleischmann Demonstrates Simultaneous Contrast Herself with the Help of a Knitted I-Cord Necklace: It Would Be a Year Before Even Meeting Josef Albers, a rendering of a knitting pattern that corresponds to a sweater she saw Albers wearing in an old photograph. This work and Albers’ Study for DO II are neighbors in this group exhibition, “Common Thread,” and they accompany fifteen contemporary paintings—all made by women—that employ pigment to imitate fabric. Sarah Harrison paints an intricate, pointillist detail of a Persian rug; Summer Wheat’s Twin Bed, 2015, drizzles loopy acrylic daisies atop a black canvas in a perfect evocation of a knotty yarn blanket. Angela Teng and Leslie Wayne venture further into the physical realm: The former crochets dried acrylic paint into a rigid cloth the size of a hand towel, and the latter molds oil-painted panels into the shapes of hanging rags, their ripples and curls eternally frozen into topographic simulacra.
By adapting properties of textile design to the conventions of painting, the works in “Common Thread” expose the restrictive power of our categories for artistic production. For many artists, it is an important theme; for others—the countless women who have been relegated to the domain of arts and crafts—it is the center of their practice.