by Elka Karl
Light cannot exist without shadow; illumination seeks a surface for reflection. In Shibumi Gallery’s newest show Illume, Jane D'Arensbourg’s glass jewelry and lighting and Amy Ruppel’s monoprints serve as an enlightening example of this truth.
A graduate of California College of Arts, where she studied sculpture, D’Arensbourg’s jewelry was initially more of an afterthought: she started making jewelry for fun and as presents to friends and family. She began working with borosilicate glass, Pyrex, in 1996, and it quickly became apparent that her sculpture and her jewelry were more closely twined than one might initially imagine. D’Arensbourg’s jewelry exists as sculpture in miniature, displaying architectural qualities both geometric and architectural. Indeed, it is as natural to think of her pieces as wearable sculpture as it is straight jewelry.
“I look at my jewelry as wearable art that can be enjoyed and experienced physically as well as brought to everyone the wearer comes in contact with. I almost feel like I am tricking customers into buying art, since jewelry is much more accessible to the general public. I also feel that everyone should experience and enjoy art,” explains D’Arensbourg. “I feel like my glass jewelry is very grounding. It is super strong. I wear my glass necklaces and rings everyday. Wearing glass reminds you that nothing last forever, and to enjoy the present.”
D’Arensbourg has also created a line of rings that are cast in metal. This new amalgamation creates a hybrid look to the rings impossible to achieve in glass or metal alone. “I like the way the quality of the fluidity of the glass forms translates into metal. The rings look like they could be mirrored glass, or drops of mercury.”
Initially imposing to the new observer, it is a pleasure to watch gallery patrons move from delicately examining and testing her rings to enthusiastically experimenting with their use and adaptability. Her Double Triangle Ring can be worn several ways, depending on which finger or angle is preferred, while the Side Loop Ring presents an interesting puzzle for the wearer to solve.
D’Arensbourg’s rings in particular most closely reflect her background in sculpture. “I look at the rings as if they are models for large scale sculpture. It's fun for me to design a ring that isn't so obvious how it is worn or that it's even a ring. Making a form that is comfortable and wearable as a ring and interesting on its own as a sculptural object is a fun challenge for me.”
D’Arensbourg has also branched into lighting, another form of sculpture in many ways. Her lighting work was first showcased at Gallery Lulo in April of 2013. It was the first real launch of her lighting work, and very well received. She also designed and created the lighting for her husband’s restaurant, Fung Tu, in Manhattan. She notes, “I have been interested in creating sculptural lighting pieces for a while. A lot of my sculpture and installations utilize light as a way to create shadows when shining on the glass, which creates another layer to the work. Putting lighting in my work was a very natural progression. It was a great opportunity to do all the lighting in my husband’s restaurant. The designs that I created were influenced by Chinese lattice patterns. It was a very natural progression from the lighting I had developed up to that point.”
Amy Ruppel’s Nature-Based Monoprints
Also showcased in Illume are Portland-based artist Amy Ruppel’s monprints, which also experiment with the relationship between shadow and light. The monoprint technique creates a quality of light impossible to achieve from painting on paper, and uniquely combines painting, printmaking and drawing techniques. Essentially a printed painting, no two monoprints are alike. Known as the most painterly method among the printmaking techniques, monoprints use on no etched lines or textures in the plate surface.
Ruppel works primarily in the subtractive dark-field method, in which an entire plate is covered with a thin layer of ink. To create the image, the artist then removes ink from the plate using rags, brushes, elements from nature, and other tools. The medium is imbued with a sense of spontaneity, simplicity and uncertainty. Ruppel notes that she likes “that a swath of removed ink can be beautiful, and even more beautiful when it’s something unexpected. Working in the subtractive method, as I do, leaves a lot of room for happy accidents. There is no end to what kinds of marks one can make. I love that the ink pulls back, as if it doesn’t want to be removed from the plate. A give and take that emits surprising results.”
Ruppel has only been working in monoprints for the past year, but her interest in printmaking goes back to her undergraduate days at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. While she has worked primarily as an artist and illustrator for many years, Ruppel has noted that working in ink has been a homecoming of sorts. This reintroduction to monoprints was enabled by San Francisco-based Three Fish Studios. Owner/artists Eric and Annie, good friends of Amy’s, sold her their Conrad etching press and drove it to her in Portland. From the time it was set up in her studio, she has been steadily producing prints.
Ruppel’s monprints reflect her love for and connection to nature. Indeed, it seems difficult to imagine Ruppel’s art without a deep consideration for nature. “I would be lost without nature. I grew up in the woods, and need to return to a forest often to ‘recharge’, so to speak,” notes Ruppel. “The Japanese know this is a necessity in life, and call it shinrin-yoku. A sort of medicinal forest bathing. Just ten minutes of nature exposure can improve clarity and refocus the mind. I am lucky enough to live a mere 25 minutes from the Columbia River Gorge, where there are an endless amount of hiking trails in lush forests above waterfalls and streams. I like to go out at sunrise and be the first on the trail. Not a bad way to start the day, and be inspired.”
All of the prints in Ruppel’s Illume show feature nature images: moths, moons, antlers, and icebergs rise from her ink. “Many of my subjects derive from elements of nature that I am fascinated by. I like to create imagery that the painterly markmaking lends its unique qualities to… the soft hairs of a moths back, the texture of an antler, the surface of the moon. All are created by dragging a soft rag or brush across the surface of the ink, either by removing it or simply pushing it aside.”
As for the wabi-sabi nature of the monprint medium, Ruppel embraces it. “Each print is one of a kind. I can recreate the same image, but it will never be the same as the one before it. I love small imperfections, such as where my sleeve or wrist may have tapped the plate and pulled some ink away, which is not revealed until I pull a print. I love not knowing exactly what is going to appear on the paper. This would drive some people crazy! But I love it.”
Working in black and white, opposed to a multitude of colors, allows Ruppel to focus on the tension between darkness and light, and the importance of the lines of the prints. “Working in one dark color lets the texture and markings shine through. [Working in the] subtractive process—the taking away of ink from a fully covered plate to create an image—allows for so many subtle lines and patterns, completely unseen until a print is pulled and the ink has transferred to the paper.”
Illume runs from March 28 - May 31, 2015 at Shibumi Gallery.