Artist Leisa Rich gets to the root of the problem

Rich's graphic textile works are on view at Callanwolde through Aug. 28

Artist Leisa Rich picks up where Al Gore left off. In Beauty from the Beast at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center Gallery, Rich taps into the pervasive global anxieties that betoken our doom-ridden, post-Kyoto world.
Framing the entire exhibition, Rich’s 10-part “Comic Book” consists of 10 individual canvases, each of which illustrates one particular way that things might go horribly wrong. In one, Rich imagines an asteroid careening into Earth, burning through the wreckage of human civilization. In another, a tsunami rises from the sea, obscuring everything on the coastline beneath it except for a shattered and ruined Hollywood sign tossed around by the waves.
The pieces that make up “Comic Book” are highly constructed works — painted backgrounds with patches of brightly colored vinyl, paper and other materials collated roughly to the surface. Rich uses black thread similarly to how comic book inkers use form-defining ink. Her use of the thread, however, lacks the powerful and expressive sense of weight evident in the best inking work. Compositionally, Rich is more successful, both exploiting and violating comic book conventions with confident abandon.
“Comic Book” is competently executed, but Rich’s vision shines brightest in the sprawling constructed garden that dominates the center of the gallery. Here, a rambling riot of materials in all manner of hues and textures mimics a dizzying array of imaginary flora and fauna. Bits of wool wrapped around drinking straws hint at some fungal form of life, while rocks made from fabric printed with grass imagery graft the organic to the inorganic in the looking glass of the artist’s imagination. Rich’s gorgeous garden is enchanting enough to justify using the word “enchanting.”
More than just a cutesy craft exercise, Rich’s garden is certainly the legacy of what was once the art world’s microtrend of the moment: overstuffed, room-sized installations that seemed to thrive on retinal overload and cognitive chaos. Think Dearraindrop. But like other current practitioners of the style — which includes artists such as Vadis Turner (recently featured at ATHICA), and the craft-ier side of New York’s Shinique Smith — Rich tames these impulses and exposes the materials themselves as rich sources of joy and fascination.

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