The title of the exhibit, “Seeking Balance,” called for some questions. What balance? What did these two artists mean? Was this a reference to Carl Jung or Alexander Calder? How was this going to work?
I was apprehensive. As the show was installed, though, I began to see the enigma of the title take shape. Together, the artists’ works are both polarizing and harmonizing; each collection strives for the same thing in a world that is itself trying to understand balance. Side-by-side the two bodies of work played to the title oh so well.
I hadn’t anticipated how this show would engage me as a human being.
Tawni Shuler’s work is a balance of the emotional and the biological, or, perhaps the spiritual. Every image is a tossing of color and patterns and shapes. The individual elements convey nothing coherent until manipulated into visual symmetry. Seeing those elements in place, they vibrate; as though they might come apart.
Shuler’s work is personal. It is made up of shapes that are familiar but evasive as in dreams. Perhaps that is a weed … maybe a flower or seed danced by. Looking at her pieces, I feel like I have found Shuler amongst the linens at Goodwill trying to make sense of all the possibilities; trying to create that perfect “dance with me all night” dress out of hundreds of scraps. Shuler’s assembled pieces must begin from a large selection of materials. I imagine she surveys an array of options and creates balance by being selective. Maybe her process of seeking is one of energetic elimination rather than quiet formulation. This window that lets me peek in at her inner ticks makes me melt a little. That is not to say her work is that of a magnified insecurity. In all of Shuler’s works you see the same bravado. These compositions cut from paper display a swagger that an artist needs to expose her own struggles. They are made by an artist who is not afraid to ask hard questions of herself.
I can’t help but feel as though Shuler is just as flummoxed by these untameable visions as we are. The elements of each piece are depicted skillfully within the composition. The patterns and colors are intentional. But the image as a whole is about searching out the unknowable.
“Love and Its Necessary Wildness” places an illustration of a black bear amongst hearts enclosed like eggs, plants, and ovarian seed shapes, on a black-and-white faux velvet, framed within a white shadow box. On the wall this small box of symmetry is displayed in line with 3 others, all four rhyme. All are made of cut paper that is curled and snipped and glued into place. All speak to desire, need and function. The emanations of levity and deep longing pull us and we settle in for a story.
Elaine DeBuhr, holding down her side of the conversation, practices the balance of the physical. She looks at the aesthetics and the formalities. It seems that, for DeBuhr, balance is found through removing the extraneous, the glitz, and the illusions. In this work “seeking” is to start at the basic forms, the epitome of the vessel. Then begin layering — quiet layers; until balance is achieved…then hold it. For me, the holding of such subtlety on our delicate scales of imagination is the hard part. How do we keep from wanting? A slash of scarlet or a tiny little lid with a tiny little handle? Or, even just the barest sheen or pebble of a soda firing? But the satisfaction gained from savoring the clean lines, thoughtful negative spaces, and rich matte colors is worth it. This work is soothing. It is tactile. It is balanced.
There are no titles. There are twenty-six jars, vases and pots in black, white, terra cotta red and pale green. The collection was low-fired and glazed with terra sigillata, a technique using ultra-refined clay slip that results in a velvety soft finish. DeBuhr grouped these vessels into still lifes, referring to the painter Giorgio Morandi. In an essay, “Giorgio Morandi: Resistance and Persistence,” Sean Scully described one of Morandi’s paintings: ”It will not reach across space to communicate visual power, but makes you reach across space toward it. We do the walking. The painting does the waiting.” We certainly feel this journey of balance in DeBuhr’s work.
The satisfaction comes in savoring the simple formal qualities. In DeBuhr’s placement of her vessels the negative spaces enhance the solidity of the vessels themselves. The colors, all warm and matte, except for a few pale greens, embody the rule of unity and variety. The round curved shoulders or straight bodies of the vessels intersect deliberately. That word — deliberate — describes DeBuhr’s process of seeking. I am struck by envy at how unflinching she is in making this work.
These two oppositional ways of approaching both making and seeking tell the same story. One strips away unnecessary glamour; the other successfully pieces together oddities.
Shuler is a Wyoming native and was a student at Northwest College just before DeBuhr began teaching there. Despite this near miss in the classroom, these two women have been engaged together in artistic and community pursuits. They both have strong commitments to learning and teaching. They both have strong ties to the Wyoming environment. If ever there was a place that exemplified seeking balance, the high desert plains of our state is it. Wyoming is certainly a state for the brave soul who is determined to look hard, and look long. Aesthetically, geologically, spiritually, observing the world around us we see balance rediscovered every day.
Seeking Balance is on exhibit at Gestalt Studios at the Polar Plant in Powell through Nov. 2.
Rebecca Weed is an artist and the gallery coordinator at Gestalt Studios at the Polar Plant in Powell.