Although Eileen Williams works in fabric and Deborah Berman works in paper collage, these two artists share a collage-oriented artistic sensibility in their separate exhibits at the Columbia Art Center.
Williams calls her show "Celebration of Women Through Faces in Fabric." Her wall-hanging fabric panels incorporate various materials, designs and cultural references, but they have in common Williams' inclusion of female masks that would be suitable for a costume ball. These masks are prominently featured in some of her panels, but in other panels the masks are nearly submerged beneath all of the other clustered and layered forms.
As its name indicates, the panel titled "Unmasked" is one of the pieces in which you're keenly aware of the masks. There is one full mask accompanied by two half-masks in "Unmasked," as if to suggest the unmasking of a personality. There are no figurative representations in this piece, but a tiny mirror embedded in the surface encourages you to make a visual connection between the masks and your own face.
"Unmasked" is typical of fabric panels in which the artist primarily works with metaphors and moods rather than direct depiction. Although the masks give a sense of female faces, they only cover a portion of the surface of the panels.
So, it's more a matter of metaphoric mood in this show. In "Pink Ribbon," for instance, the work's title and an accompanying text about breast cancer obviously qualify as a specific reference to that medical condition, but the artwork itself operates in a more colorfully emotional way.
An all-over sense of color also can be found in "Quiet Moments," with its subdued green fabric. "Cinnamon" and "Ginger" rely upon colors evocative of those particular spices.
Williams isn't just exploring the possibilities of color, however, because there are panels such as "Stream of Consciousness," which has a raised surface owing to the many rectangular and triangular shapes pushing out into the gallery air.
Such panels are so densely covered with various forms pushing against each other that they verge on seeming visually chaotic, but other panels have a sense of patterning to more or less keep things visually under control. In "Zebra," there are black-and-white striped patterns similar to what one would find on a zebra, but "Zebra" also has some checkerboard-evocative patterning with a rigorous black-and-white gridded structure.
The allusions in Williams' work to everything from zebras to spices occasionally give way to overt imagery. Besides the masks found throughout her fabric panels, there are additional direct depictions. In "Women of Honor," the sense of sacrifice for our country is underscored by the incorporation of three small rolled up American flags.
And "Toile" relies upon a venerable French textile tradition by covering the surface with a black-and-white printed fabric design illustrating a pastoral landscape.
The second exhibiting artist, Deborah Berman, has small paper collages in a show she calls "The Sum of Its Parts."
Geometric abstractions are found in many of the collages. "Perpetual Rhythm," for instance, has a composition featuring densely grouped, variously colored rectangles and circles. Musical associations also are pursued in "All About Jazz," whose intersecting forms are the abstract equivalent of jazz musicians having a jam session.
Sometimes the collaged compositions are less dense and more directly evocative of particular artistic traditions. In "Mikado," the spare black-and-white design and floral references evoke a Japanese esthetic; and in "Amish Quilt," several blocks of colored paper are linked in a quilt-evocative manner.
Berman goes for a very specific reference in three collages installed next to each other. "Classical Totem," "Pomp and Circumstance" and "Corinthian Cup" combine small pieces of paper to make collages that look like ancient Greek columns.
An altogether different kind of column is involved in "So Many Stories," which uses collaged columns of newsprint to create what amounts to a busy jumble of words. This particular collage makes anybody writing about Deborah Berman's art realize how readily she could cut up a newspaper review and use it as source material for a future collage.
Eileen Williams and Deborah Berman exhibit through Dec. 1 at the Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth in Long Reach Village in Columbia. Call 410-730-0075 or go to ColumbiaArtCenter.orghttp://www.ColumbiaArtCenter.org.