The best shorthand for summarizing the deep and nuanced appeal to artist Constance Old’s 21st century version of rug hooking may be to summon three M’s—masterful alchemy of medium and message. The New Canaan artist creates pieces with attractive colors and patterns that magnetize viewers to draw closer, where the marriage of medium and technique dazzles.
The work is made with mixed paper and plastic. It’s rug hooking using contemporary materials that results in three dimensional wall pieces commenting on the excesses of the consumer economy. The bases, or substrates of the woven works, are things like plastic tarps, disassembled polyester mesh bags, shopping bags, handbags, and construction fencing.
“When you abstract it down, all you need is a grid and a strand to pull through the grid,” said the artist, who will be exhibiting a series of small works from March 4 through April 30, 2017 at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, N.Y. (The opening reception is March 4, from 4 to 7 p.m., with a snow date of March 5. A talk by the artist is scheduled for 4 p.m. April 8.)
“For a long time I’ve made these smaller pieces in a series entitled ‘Filling the Void,’” explained Old, who received a Master’s of Fine Art degree in graphic design from Yale University, and worked as an art director for Martha Stewart Living and as a freelance book designer before committing full-time to making her own work. The “canvas” for these small experimental works is a 4-by-6-inch rectangle, with an oval in the middle that represents the void in the title of the series. They are created in the same way as her larger works, woven of contemporary materials on a grid or substrate.
“To me they’re like little paintings,” the artist said. “Instead of working with paint, my medium is upcycled paper and plastic. Over the years I’ve probably made a hundred of them. I use them as a way to experiment, mostly with materials.”
Each work is framed with an acrylic dustcover that “elevates them,” while also providing protection. The Lionheart Gallery Exhibit will feature 20 small pieces gathered under the title Analog, and the works will be presented on the gallery walls like a frieze, with 10 in one suite, six in another and four in a third. In February, Old was working on the series of 10, whose works are unified by two elements. “The substrate is this really cool woven plastic I got in Peru, and they almost all have an element of sea plastic or beach plastic washed up on the beach,” the artist said. “And Mylar balloons. An incredible number of Mylar balloons wash up on the beach.”
The sea-washed plastic and balloons have unique distressed colors that she couldn’t create herself, the artist said, remarking, “There’s kind of an environmental comment and a formal comment [in the materials].” As for the substrate, while traveling in Peru with her brother the artist noticed a tarp akin to the bright blue ones used to cover things in the U.S. “Theirs are all woven in these incredibly beautiful stripes,” said the artist, who later bumped into a marketplace stall with bolts of these plastic tarps. She bought yards of the material to serve as the bases for new works.
Each of the works in Analog comes with a swatch card delineating the materials used, and the origin of the substrate.
There will be a few larger pieces by the artist on exhibit as an enhancement of Analog, along a work that is part of the artist’s J. Crew series.
“I saw a skirt in the window of J. Crew years ago and the fabric it was made of was really great; linen and cotton with a Day-Glo pink stripe in it,” the artist recalled. “I thought, ‘I could rug-hook in the linen part and leave the cotton stripe exposed.”
She bought the skirt, dismantled it and used it as her base. Four or five years later, she found similar J. Crew skirts, one with a grey stripe that has been upcycled into an artwork and will be shown in conjunction with Analog as another commentary on consumer society.
“Paper and plastic interest me as abundantly available fibers that not only reflect our time, but with imagination and coaxing can be made into ‘rugs,’ or at least wall pieces,” Old says in her artist’s statement. “Living in an era of material excess, it intrigues me to work in a medium that originated from need and a scarcity of materials.”
Constance Old has exhibited in galleries and museums around the country. Her work is in corporate and private collections throughout the U.S. and in Australia and Argentina.