Surface (and Deeper)
Alicia Forestall-Boehm lives and works in Chicago, a metropolis rich in history, culture, industry, ethnicity, wealth, and resources. She is involved deeply with the surfaces of her works, developed from simple, delicate materials that result in colorful, tightly controlled forms that bridge between organic and geometric structures. In her statement she speaks about exploring the “history of private and public urban spaces”. It is worth looking deeper into what she might mean by that, and what does that have to do with her preoccupation with the encaustic (wax) surfaces she uses.
Chicago consists of manmade canyons walled by giant grids of brick, glass, steel and concrete, with narrow valleys of rushing streams of humanity and machinery. The city is a museum of important architectural history. After the Great Fire of 1871, it had to rebuild. The tough spirit of Chicago industry created new energy that led to the First Chicago Style and the first “sky scrapers”, the idea of which the architect Louis Sullivan refined. In the second half of the 20th century the work of a later architect, Mies van der Rohe, typified what is called the Second Chicago Style. His minimalist buildings provide another expression of the city’s powerful global leadership, offering a colder, corporate face to the world.
Alicia Forestall-Boehm’s work makes the idea of place, both in a private and public sense, a direct and indirect motif for many of her pieces, especially these as indicated by their titles: Power Of Place, Place, Spaces We Inhabit, Moving Day, Considering Mies. These elegant, small sculptures are made of simple materials—wire, and cheesecloth, the loose weave of which creates an armature for the application of encaustic (pigmented wax).
In Power Of Place, Forestall-Boehm creates two organic planes using strips of fabric died in various colors creating a pattern. These were all then unified with a coating of an earth tone “glaze” of semi-transparent wax. One plane arches downward, the other upward, connecting at one end like a clamshell with what appears to be a simple bend in a single sheet of material. These planes intersect each other near the opposite end with a slotted joint. This results in a partially enclosed volume, relatively smooth on the outside, but with spike-like textures on the inside made with fiber cords coated with wax. We are drawn to the inner space, but also threatened by its uncertain surface. This interior is private, organic, partially because of the material, but more importantly because of how the planes broadly shelter the space.
In Considering Mies, Forestall-Boehm clearly makes reference to the glass and steel buildings of Mies van der Rohe,. She appropriates his style by constructing a geometric, square frame with channeled space inside the frame. The back and front sides mark the corners of the frame with unfilled spaces, recalling van der Rohe’s windows. The planes are created with the same woven strips of died fabric in various shades of yellow and coated with a transparent wax. These hand-made organic materials contradict the psychologically repelling feel of the anonymous glass and steel of van der Rohe’s architecture, with an invitation to touch and feel the surface.
Boehm also contemplates the spaces between forms, as with the sculptures Passages, Fluidity, Moving Day, Reversing The Flow, Frozen Music, Point Of Balance, Reflecting On Their Course and Coming Together. With these, she considers pathways and their transitions between spaces (or realms, or states).
Passages references an archetypal boat form used for thousands of years as a metaphor for transcendence from this life to another. The copper looking green wax coating over the entire form complements the copper red wires poking though the upper rims of the vessel, defining an open, implied plane through their repetition. The rhythmic pattern implies the forward motion of the vessel.
Reversing The Flow creates contradictory rhythms and other visual forces that move the viewer’s eyes both forward and backward. It consists of strands of wax-coated fibers tinted with variegated chromatic bluish grays. These fibers are looped to a single wire, looking like fringe suspended in a moment of centrifugal force. Each end of the wire is fastened to a wall by nails, one directly over the other as if to create the beginning of a spiral like the number six, or an incomplete form of a handwritten letter “o”. The initial stroke of this configuration begins with the upper end, which visually holds a state of suspended muscular energy. While we follow the curve down and around, it spirals to the lower end, which by comparison seems visually weighted down toward the spiral’s center, reversing the eye movement back to the left. Forestall-Boehm is always aware of the space, as much as the form itself. Considering the space surrounded, the fact that the two ends do not meet visually implies a kind of open fence through which the negative space escapes, reversing the flow. The stiffened fringe recognizes both the forward motion of the stroke and the backward motion of the space. Either movement could account for the centrifugal force. The piece is exquisitely subtle, but powerful.
Another group of works, including Vessels 3, 6, 10, 26 and 27, scales down the space to the volume and outer surface of small, but monumental vessels. These are bulky, geometric, rhomboid-like forms that speak about their volume through an outside “skin” of woven patterns of squares suggesting irregularly shaped basket-like forms.
One might even suppose that the pieces The Accumulation Of Small Moments, Make No Little Plans, Infinite Possibilities, and Unfulfilled Dream, are about kinds of conceptual spaces in time, conceptual scale or certain spatial dynamics found in natural phenomena. The Accumulation of Small Moments is a small square painting of loosely defined converging grids of heavily textured, richly multi-colored patches. They might remind one of the geometric/organic patterns of landscape seen from a plane. The grid units make a whole topography.
Other pieces do not necessarily fit the categories of concern with space above. They may be germs of ideas for future works. They share certain characteristics, like the materials used and the modest size, though some also have a monumentality that yearns for larger scale. Often the use of concrete form suggests abstract, ethereal and transient qualities found in the natural world. Through ideas ventured in such pieces as the Persistence Of Vision and The Memory Of Water, Boehm intuitively mines the surfaces of physics, philosophy, and other realms, potentially grounding us, in a sense, back to basic classical concepts of the world, offering respite from the world we, as a culture, have created.