Fiber artist Libby Kowalski walks a line between the turn of the millennium commercial textiles she designs and the fantastic sculptural shapes she constructs by painting or dyeing and then folding those synthetic materials into exquisite pillars and hangings.
The result in one work, “Ringlets,” more closely resembles a new-age Rapunzel than ordinary fruit of the loom, and all the work draws in the viewer to examine more closely and puzzle over the artist’s method of adding color and texture to each piece.
The SUNY Cortland professor emerita of art and art history will display the span of her career’s work in an exhibition titled “Libby Kowalski: A Retrospective in Fibers” from Monday, Jan. 25, to Friday, Feb. 19.
An opening reception will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28.
|Before her retrospective exhibition, Libby Kowalski stands beside her installation-in-progress, "Ringlets."|
Kowalski will give an artist’s talk at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
A free, hands-on introduction to weaving workshop — during which participants will weave a bookmark — will be led by Jenn McNamara, SUNY Cortland fibers professor, from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18, in the Dowd Fine Arts Center Fibers Studio, first floor. To register, call 607-753-4216 or email Gallery Director Erika Fowler-Decatur.
All Dowd Gallery exhibitions and programs are free and open to the public.
For “Libby Kowalski: A Retrospective in Fibers,” the main exhibition area will feature her recent 2015 to 2016 series made from high-tech materials. The two side gallery rooms will show earlier periods: her double cloth weavings from 1979 to 1994 and mixed media textiles from 1997 to 2004.
“I have been around textiles for nearly 70 years,” Kowalski said. “The versatility of the medium, its geometry and texture, never ceases to surprise me.”
Kowalski, who earned a B.F.A. in fiber and printmaking from Colorado State University and an M.F.A. in fiber from Cranbrook Academy of Art, brought a working commercial artist experience to her teaching at SUNY Cortland from 1982 until her retirement in 2001. In 2004, Kowalski founded KOVA Textiles in New York City, for which she designs window shade fabrics from high-tech materials. She currently resides in Brooklyn.
The articulation of opposites is an important conceptual aspect of Kowalski’s earliest works, the double cloth weavings. Delicate cotton and linen yarns are woven into bold, geometrical imagery in these pieces, which reflect the historical influence of Russian Constructivism and the then contemporary aesthetic of the first computer motherboards and the Apple Macintosh 128K.
Shown are Libby Kowalski's "We Are All Immortal or None," 1985, cotton and linen yarns; from the collection of Gebina Meijer-Morel. Her image above left is Basket Weave (detail), 2015, vinyl coated polyester and polymer alloy yarns and ink.
During Kowalski’s second phase of work at the turn of the millennium, textured cloths and heavy laces were popularized by the garment district in New York City. Inspired by the 17th-century Baroque palaces and churches Kowalski had recently visited in France, she sprayed such fabrics with gesso and gilded and painted them in several layers. The sumptuous, painted planes of sculptural relief contrast starkly with the sparse visual spaces of her earlier weavings.
Kowalski’s current body of work focuses on the repurposing of flawed or damaged KOVA fabrics. The physical properties of these sophisticated yarns make them unique as art materials. Their hollow core inspired experimentation with capillary action. The resulting pieces look like ancient ikat weavings with a distinctly contemporary slant.
“The flexible but firm quality of the materials inspired sculptural forms that are untethered from the wall, allowing the artist to venture for the first time into the realm of the fully three-dimensional with her work,” noted Fowler-Decatur.
The Dowd Gallery is located in SUNY Cortland’s Dowd Fine Arts Center, corner of Graham Avenue and Prospect Terrace. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment.
For more information or regarding group tours, contact Fowler-Decatur at 607-753-4216.