Chicago

Alice Shaddle

Artemesia Gallery

Alice Shaddle’s work is not trendy, scientific, ostentatious or aggressive. It involves no fast changes, no social comment. Nothing juts out, there are no hard forms. She is not trying to make a point or prove herself. Her work is old-fashioned and feminine: just gently, diaphanously and quietly there.

Since 1967, Shaddle has made paper sculpture and reliefs in which the cut paper is folded and forms come out of the flat page. Collage drawings inside boxes fit together so that depending upon the point of view one drawing seems to become part of another; anthropomorphic heads that seem to change expression as a viewer walks by; and flowers inspired by 18th-century painting’s veils, embroidery, floating drapery and robes that stand out in midair. She painted her work only until 1971; since then she has used patterned wallpaper for the color.

Her recent installation, Under the Snow, had as its subject the awakening of nature after winter. It consisted of 25 vellum paper circles, 45 inches in diameter, on the gallery floor, each transparent, translucent circle topped with 15 or 20 dome-shaped shells that looked less solid to the touch than they actually were and which crinkled when you picked them up. On the circles and shells were scattered grasses, seeds, dried flowers, corn husks and other natural materials, a sort of real-world evidence to which the paper sculpture alluded. Then, in the center of the gallery, a large square vellum sheet marked off a “Pyre to Winter” on which were arranged bouquet offerings, paper bladelike implements with which “to do away with winter,” and a bed made of vellum pillows stuffed with grasses and weeds.

The entire installation was very successful. Those circles resembled something from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or from friendly outer space. The delicate effect en masse paradoxically overpowered such mechanical gallery details as ugly radiators and square support columns, and in their midst, a couple of real potted plants definitely did look phony. Light from the gallery windows traveled over the shells as if they were plants in a garden, illuminating them in a regular rhythm throughout the day. Lacy patterns on the “Pyre” pillows recalled evanescent spider webs and the shells made into leaves evoked the orgiastic unfolding when winter is followed by abruptly hot spring.

But a variety of decisions also made this piece as much about Shaddle as about nature. I was surprised that her combination of actual grasses and sculpted forms worked so well. Her “Pyre” had the only square shapes in the exhibition, as if she intended to make this the only place in the installation which could have been assembled by human hands. Generally speaking too, she chose a poetic, soft metaphor, whereas the Midwestern late winter is usually a matter of hard things: colorless or dried brownish green stubby grass, old plants turned into pointed stalks, and damp chills in the air. Alice Shaddle’s Under the Snow, like her prior flower sculptures and reliefs, was a continuation of something that seems characteristic of her work: assertive but quiet strength.

C.L. Morrison