New York

Stephanie Kirschen-Cole

In this exhibition of recent mixed-media collages, Stephanie Kirschen-Cole showed herself to be an artist who delights in the sheer physicality of the materials she employs. Using various kinds of paper, canvas, silk, dye, and pigment, she shows a distinct talent for creating objects with an exuberant air and evocative presence about them. However physically appealing the treatment of their surfaces might be, these works appeal equally to the mind’s eye.

Polaska/da Vinci, 1989, is one of a group of collages featuring stamps or fragments of envelopes. Here, the stamp issued by the Polish government in honor of Leonardo’s well-known portrait of a young woman, which hangs in a museum in Cracow, serves as the central motif of an elaborate frame-in-frame, multiple-layer composition. The artist uses different-sized “frames,” such as red stitching and needlepoint, as well as contrasting textures and colors of paper, in order to reiterate the central theme. But these formal devices merely set the stage for a more emblematic reading, as the image of the Leonardo portrait, floating within the abstract field of a contained and compartmentalized gridlike structure, begin to take on metaphorical significance as a window onto the universal world of art and life.

This same theme of the frame as window is further explored in Liberty, 1989, the largest of the pieces shown. On a wall-sized surface, Kirschen-Cole has constructed a visual field filled with vibrating colorful patterns, as well as three cut-out triangular sections. Each of these sections serves as a frame or window for the artist’s color-Xerox appropriations of some of the famous representations of liberty. The triangle on the left contains the Statue of Liberty, the one in the middle showcases details from the Alfred Stieglitz photograph of poor immigrants bound by ship for a new life in the United States, and the right triangle contains portions of the head of the female figure of liberty from the celebrated Delacroix painting of the subject. The notion of liberty as being in the air, a desire or yearning for freedom transcending the usual limits of both time and place, is here given striking expression. In the abstract works such as Sharaka, Jacula, and Izumi/H.X.R., all 1989, Kirschen-Cole reveals an interest in the dynamic structures found in traditional Japanese and Indian arts and crafts, one that is mirrored in the harmonious energy of her own compositions.

Ronny Cohen