New York

Anne Healy and Pat Lasch

Graduate Center of the City University and Zabriskie Gallery

A.I.R. is a gallery that specializes in painting and sculpture by women. Many of the artists exhibiting there, including Anne Healy and Pat Lasch, worked with traditionally womanly materials such as thread and cloth. At one time it was thought that their primary aim in using them was to radicalize (as in radical feminist) art through their assertion that women’s activities were the proper subject/object of art. Partially because of a political/economic belief that it is wiser to move into the mainstream, some of the artists have tended to disperse into the art world at large. Unfortunately, they continue to be grouped by their choice of materials, obscuring their real differences.

Anne Healy works in extremely different modes united only by the use of pliable materials and a reliance on tension structures to discipline the prevailing softness of the material. Her largest pieces are designed to exist in outdoor areas, such as the space between skyscrapers, and depend on the movement of air currents to activate them.

Continuing her use of large scale, Healy constructs pictorial sculptures such as Rainbow, shown at Graduate Center of the City University, a series of ribbons or banners of nylon cloth, each one a different color (yellow, blue red, orange, blue green and red purple) suspended on top of each other like a spectrum analysis of a beam of light. Because she uses the fabric colors as they come off the bolt, she doubled the layers when she wanted to intensify a color. The “rainbow” bears a family resemblance to Morris’s cut felt sculptures and Louis’s Unfurleds, while retaining its own identity as a physical color expansion.

Healy also shapes cloth into more intimate images. In these pieces, a gauzy nylon chiffon is gathered onto curved wire stretchers. The forms, such as in Fugue, evoke frilly ante-bellum crinolines and Victorian curtains. They go beyond an imagery of female artifacts to suggest female sensuality of the type found in O’Keeffe’s paintings of flowers. O’Keeffe and Healy share a sense of crushed vulnerability. Although O’Keeffe’s flowers seem to be made out of a firm substance, they appear crushed through the cropping of the image and compacting of the filmy mass of the flower forms. This sense of collapse within tense structures is equivalent to Healy’s crushing of fabric between metal supports. The resolved conflict between flaccidity and strength seems to me to be the power of Healy’s work.

To use a metaphor of process rather than mere morphological similarity, Pat Lasch pierced her canvases, emulating the slow patterning of a tree’s growth rings with tiny lines of metallic threads which follow the contours of the stretchers. The stitches are meant to be read as pure form and, as in the case of all images made up of sequences of handmade units, they also intend to suggest the length of time involved in the process of making them. Whether it be the over-and-over gesture of sewing or the dot brush strokes of Seurat, anyone who chooses to make almost rote, minute repetitive marks has found that this way of “stroking” the surface fits into one’s own personal breathing or rhythm.

Lasch has chosen to sew her canvases rather than to paint them so she can combine a religious imagery with a female one. All aspects of the work are intensely concerned with needlework accoutrements and attitudes, which may be seen as abstracted into an implicit statement about the previous undervaluing of women’s needle arts. Even the stretchers may be seen as functioning exactly like the ring of an embroidery hoop, holding the surface of the cloth taut for needlework. Her canvases are like the ecclesiastical embroideries made by high-born women in the Middle Ages, a public presentation of an image and a private form of meditation. For the religiously inclined woman (and only those women who were religiously inclined would have chosen to make bishops’ copes and altar cloths rather than tapestries of secular subjects) the act of making the work was seen as comparable to telling the beads in a rosary or making a pilgrimage. Yet, Lasch has changed the role of women vis à vis the embroidery. In the Middle Ages women played a hidden function, they sewed religious garments for men. Now, Lasch asserts that women’s work has a right to an existence on its own.

Her exploration of the subtle variations in the colors of the gold, silver and copper metallic threads is an innovation on her predominantly white-on-white work. The subtle shimmer of metal against white accentuates the exterior form of the surface and emphasizes the central void. It is also a standard religious image—light and circles of light, in particular, are conventionally read as symbols of divine illumination. I think of Flavin’s adoption of a similar light imagery, especially his recent fluorescent circle sculptures, as relating to the way Lasch uses light. The works’ liturgical aspect is enhanced by their grouping into a quasi-religious environment. A sequence of diptychs followed by six tondos was hung to form a band wrapping the walls of the gallery.

Ann-Sargent Wooster