The cycle of life—birth, survival and decay—is an experience shared by every living organism on the planet. As much as humans strive to separate themselves from each other and the natural world, our tedious stories of existence bind us all in an inseparable chain of kinship. This relationship between humans and natural systems is constantly scrutinized by philosophers, scientists, and, of course, artists. Currently on exhibit at Modern West, three Utah artists bring their work together to present INTERWOVEN—an intricate examination of organic matter and form.
Despite differences in medium and approach, the works of Kiki Gaffney, Jim Jacobs and Anna Laurie Mackay speak to each other instinctively. All integrate themes of nature, pattern and structure. Jim Jacobs draws his inspiration from the complexity of our environment and its organisms. His sculptural pieces graft everyday items like chairs and baseball bats from wood—an ancestral and enduring material. “Wood has a physicality and a relationship to our bodies and our lives that reaches back to our arboreal past,” says Jacobs. “It lends itself to be metaphors for us, our social and political idiosyncrasies, and our peculiar role in nature.”
Through his careful technique of splintering and joining, familiar shapes transcend their base form as merely usable objects. Instead, their bold deconstructions offer insight into our storied history with the natural world. Take his piece Breach for example, which Jacobs created using long strips of laminated and carved maple to shape a baseball bat. “One reason I titled it Breach is because its gesture reminds me somewhat of the angle of a whale as it thrusts its head out of the water,” he says. Although made from organic material, the piece is far from a sedate representation of nature. Erratic swirling forms confer a feeling of chaos—an intentional interpretation by Jacobs. “The work was also influenced by the fact that baseball is such a strong American icon and that some January 6th insurrectionists attacked the Capitol with baseball bats.”
Jacobs’ process of deconstruction and restoration is echoed by fellow artist Anna Laurie Mackay, who methodically cuts and weaves thin strips of tissue paper to arrange landscapes. “Jim’s work is about pushing the limitations of wood and changing the properties of how it behaves in a similar way that I am pushing paper to behave like a textile,” says Mackay. Painstakingly layered and braided, her work in INTERWOVEN takes inspiration from place—more specifically, The Great Salt Lake. “The Lake is an endless source of wonder and inspiration to me,” says Mackay. “It speaks of beauty, austerity, memory, loss and longing in a way that I find continual fascination with.” Her piece Hazed Lake reflects the melancholy cool tones of the lake’s fading blue waters, contrasted with warmer shades of maroon and purple. “I wanted to push the subject further into abstraction and make the work more about the surface, the colors and the materials,” she says.
Just as Jacobs and Mackay create using elements found in their natural surroundings, Kiki Gaffney is drawn to the repetition, pattern and tension inherent in our environment. Her multi-media works reflect nature’s careful balance of order and chaos using graphite, gold or silver leaf and glitter. “I like the level of detail and precision I can achieve with [graphite] and materials like gold or silver reflect and shift the light, which can shift the perspective of the work,” she says.
Gaffney’s colorful interpretations beckon us to contemplate the inner workings of systems, both human-made and organic. “There’s so much that we don’t see,” she says. “What’s happening underground? Above? Many systems are at play in terms of growth, decay and communication.” Her collage-style piece, Layers of Time, offers a different perspective on a recognizable Utah landscape, Capitol Reef National Park. The upper half of the piece appears as a photographic reflection of the mountain, then dissolves into geometric waves and a grid system in the lower half. The contrast of natural and human-designed systems explores the link between them, and invites viewers to slow down and contemplate the details.
INTERWOVEN is a thoughtful approach to understanding our intrinsic relationship with nature. Whether through organic materials that make up our tools and furniture, landscapes that connect us to physical space, or natural patterns we replicate in our society. You can see the exhibit at Modern West’s gallery space now until November 4.