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Paper, thread, plotter — Laura Ledbetter and Dan Rushton’s visual conversation


[It’s not often that a show comes together as compatibly as this one. Noreen explores why Paper, Thread, Plotter works so well. — the Artblog editors]

Balancing a two-person show can be tricky—one artist’s work may overshadow the other’s, or an unintended dissonance may occur. The pairing of artists Dan Rushton and Laura Ledbetter at Grizzly Grizzly hurdles these challenges and lands with a satisfying harmony. Their exhibition is one part excellent curation—whoever paired these two paired well—and one part the works’ forced proximity in the narrow gallery. People, Places and Things feels like a conversation between two artists whose processes couldn’t be more different but whose works bear striking points of commonality.

Playful paper

Dancing paper and thread in Laura Ledbetter’s collages.

Ledbetter’s collage work plays with a sense of chance—calling to mind the Suprematist compositions of Kazimir Malevich–only Ledbetter uses paper and thread instead of paint. The artist expands beyond a simple Suprematist arrangement of color and form. She uses an assortment of matte and textured paper, cut into organic, unnamable shapes, and at other times, contained in geometric forms. The variation between her compositions charms the viewer; in one piece, the paper forms climb and curl swiftly upward, and in another, they drunkenly bounce off each other.

Embroidered elements in Ledbetter’s collage.

In several works, Ledbetter stacks the paper shapes, blooming from flatness into a sculptural realm. The unexpected dimension offers the viewer a visual treat, along with the hand-sewn thread that weaves in, out, and over the paper. Sometimes the tense thread bonds the paper pieces together—constricting the composition—and other times, the thread becomes a starburst of line and form. In a few instances, Ledbetter allows the thread a voice of its own, embroidering a tree-ring shape into the paper.

Plotting the process

Dan Rushton’s digital watercolor figures.

The plotted lines in Rushton’s digital-watercolor works serve as orthogonal connections throughout the painted subjects—in much the same way Ledbetter’s thread operates. These delicate line structures hold an engaging conversation with the color palette. The watercolors’ bright purples and electric blues vary in density, and sometimes wash into the plotted lines—celebrating the chance smears and smudges that accompany the medium.

However, I wished the hot pink ink had taken more prominent roles in the work. At times, the thin lines completely disappear in the wash, and exist merely as ghost images behind the thick figures. There is a disparity in the ratio of size; the figures upstage the tiny lines of ink, rather than capitalizing on the conversation between the sterility of plotted lines and the looseness of watercolor painting.

The resemblance between the two bodies of work grabbed my attention at first glance: all pieces were created on paper and share similar use of line. I imagined Ledbetter’s threads having a direct equivalent in the plotted lines of Rushton’s figure paintings. Surprisingly, the artists had no foreknowledge of each others’ work, yet the coupling of the pieces went smoothly.

Speaking about his work, Mr. Rushton showed me a video of his chief drawing tool: a modified vinyl cutter, the blade replaced with a graffiti marker. Comparing his plotter to the way de Kooning painted with his left hand, Rushton described his process as a limitation that allows a new communication of the medium. Rushton either begins with a plotted ink on paper or a watercolor figure, and reworks these two processes until completion. His technology-based approach, paired with Ledbetter’s enchanting, hand-cut and sewn technique, echoes in a unique conversation between the walls of Grizzly Grizzly.

People, Places and Things is on view at Grizzly Grizzly (319 N 11th Street, 2nd floor, Philadelphia, PA) until April 26, 2014.

Noreen Kress is an artist living in Philadelphia. A sophomore in college, she studies painting, printmaking, and art history.