By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
She applies nary a drop of paint to her feather pieces, yet Ehrin calls them paintings nonetheless. She's not alone in this view, as evidenced by her inclusion in this year's New American Paintings: The MFA Annual, a survey of important young painters in MFA programs nationally. Ehrin was selected by Lisa Dennison, chief curator of New York's Guggenheim Museum, no less. But Robin Rule, the Rule gallery's owner and director, disagrees. "She's a matterist, like Carl Andre," she says.
Ehrin's early pieces were monochromes with feathers attached to a geometric shape. A mark of her success with this approach is that her 2000 "Purple Python Pool," a huge racetrack oval covered in purple marabou feathers, is part of Retrospectacle. "It's pretty amazing to be in a show of that magnitude," Ehrin says. "I adore some of the artists I'm shown with, and honored to be displayed next to them."
Surely many artists, confronted with a solo coinciding with the debut of their work at the museum, would have chosen to create pieces more or less identical to the curator's selection. But that's hardly what Ehrin did for Fabulous Savage. Instead, she pushed her work in several new directions: Organic shapes supplement the geometric ones, and polychromes join the monochromes. Actually, the piece in Fabulous Savage most closely related to "Purple Python Pool" is not even made of feathers; it's a digital video of the surface of an older feather piece slowly moving in the breeze.
The show begins with the large, beautiful wall piece "Madame Royale," a mural composed of pink and yellow ostrich plumes sewn in cascading rows on a backing of silk organza. The piece is named for Marie Antoinette's daughter, hinting that Ehrin's been inspired by France and French fashion. In fact, she went to Paris to study the feathered costumes of the Moulin Rouge and the historic feathered garments displayed in museums.
"I've really sunk my teeth into art history," Ehrin says, "and I've looked at feathered aprons and ancient feathered capes, and they've influenced me. I could never get away from the fact that those things existed." But Ehrin doesn't create reproductions of antiques; she's interested in the here and now. "My work is about fashion, about haute couture," she explains. "And fashion -- and my work -- is a direct reflection of contemporary society."
The plumes seen in "Madame Royale," as well as those used for the similar though considerably larger "Pucci l'Amour," hanging on the back wall, result in a lively expressionistic surface -- but there's still more to it. "With the plumes, I've moved away from the modular geometric shapes I was doing, and at the same time I revealed more of the material," Ehrin explains. "The plumes are feathers, and they look like feathers, which wasn't always true before, when I was using marabou."
For "Madame Royale" and "Pucci l'Amour" Ehrin mounted the plumes in horizontal rows with the ends of the feathers hanging down. In "Savage Star," the plumes are arranged in a radiating circle surrounding a Swarovski crystal. Another circular piece, "Ask the Dauphin," also has a radiating circle of feathers around a Swarovski crystal, but instead of ostrich feathers, Ehrin hand-curled the edges of goose feathers and mounted the whole thing on an upholstered cushion.
The strangest pieces in the show are two in which Ehrin combines feathers with stretched animal hides that have been staked to the wall. In "Little Mermaid Control Panel," a metallic-finished suede hide is accented with a mound of peacock feathers and crystals, including a geodesic sphere. Ehrin used the crystal sphere to pay homage to former teacher Richert, a designer of geodesic domes. "I dreamt of this piece, and it made me think of Clark," she says.
The atmosphere conjured up by Ehrin in Fabulous Savage speaks to luxury; even the show's signage was carried out in looping cursive script done in metallic gold. "A lot of people think of this work as glamorous, and it is," Ehrin says. "But what intrigues me is that people want to touch them, to blow on them, that there's this visceral attraction to the softness and beauty of the feathers, and it's this attraction that's exciting to me."
Mary Ehrin: Fabulous Savage at Rule is a strong and clearly focused exhibit that showcases a young, homegrown talent who is definitely on the way up.