Tyler’s art exhibit, “Patterns of Consumption” sweeps passersby out of their daily routines.
Step through the main doors of the Tyler School of Art on any normal day, and you’re greeted by a security desk set against Spartan, stark-white walls. Step into Tyler from now until April 15, and a 40-foot-tall latticework of mustard-yellow paisley leaves will greet you instead.
The startling pattern is part of Tyler School of Art’s current exhibit, “Patterns of Consumption.” The exhibit, which is curated by professor Heather Gibson, began April 2.
As Gibson, who teaches history of modern craft and design at Tyler, greeted visiting art aficionados at the exhibit, she gestured toward an evocative arrangement of plaster plates hanging on the wall. The dizzying pattern of various-sized plaster plates featuring the faces of snarling French gargoyles, a drowning Pinocchio and the hindquarters of a woman birthing a rat are the handiwork of Jedidiah Morfit.
Morfit, who is the head of the sculpture program at Stockton University, took a playful approach to the “Pattern of Consumption” theme, offering – literally – a pattern of consumption.
Dozens of carefully arranged plates serve up sculpted images depicting people’s various “appetites.”
Some of the plates, Gibson pointed out, have edges lopped off and are fused with other plates.
“Originally when he was making these assemblages, he was doing them all with the round-plate form,” Gibson said. “This series is new in that he started splicing the plates and putting them together to make the patterns seem to evolve into each other, [creating] a richly layered art history involving the theme of appetite.”
John Williams, a ceramics artist and instructor at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia, contributed his own “Commodities” series to the exhibit.
Made up of three barren, rocky landscapes studded with glistening golden figurines, Williams’ “Commodities” series presents energy usage and natural landscapes and forces us to ask ourselves, “What gives something ‘value?’” Williams said.
“In doing this series I try and present the issue rather than solve the problem,” Williams added. “My job as the artist is to bring the conversation to the table. I know I can’t solve the problem, but awareness is more than half of the game.”
Williams constructs the land in his pieces out of ceramics – a low-value material – but puts care into making the ceramic landscapes dramatic and beautiful. The resource extraction figurines, made of 14-carrot gold, glisten alluringly but distract the eye from the white landscape’s quieter appeal.
“There is a lot of symbolism and layering and a lot of that has been my intent, but it may not be apparent on the first glimpse,” Williams said.
Lauren Dombrowiak, the artist responsible for the 40-foot-tall paisley wallpaper hanging in the exhibit, said she chose the ornate paisley design as the theme of her piece because, unlike today, everyday objects in the Victorian era were instilled with artful ornamentation.
“I like the idea that it serves a dual purpose,” Dombrowiak said. “You can sit on it, [and] it’s beautiful. The arts and crafts movement sleeked things down. Minimalism in the ‘50s and ‘60s did that as well. Even the building we are in now is sleeked down and barren. I’m interested in how those things got lost.”
The traditions behind the Victorian decor are made personal in Dombrowiak’s artwork. Rather then lending the furnishings to abstract contemplation, she places them in immediate relationship to people’s lives.
“Except for the wallpaper, the tangible objects are points of entry into a home or entry into someone’s life. They’re gateways,” Dombrowiak explained. “If we have a grandiose driveway, you’d have these lights on the end of the driveway which would then proceed up to the doorway. Then, if you were allowed to pass through, you’d make it to the sitting room and be able to sit on that couch.”
Carl O’Donnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.