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Minimalist Respite in Pittsburgh

In this, her third solo show, entitled You Will Arrive, at 707 Gallery, April 28 – June 17, Pittsburgh based artist Kara Skylling’s focus is on crafting intimately scaled, minimalist works on paper utilizing grid-like pencil designs and compartmentalized muted color. It is apparent that Skylling’s carefully conceived, rigidly controlled, underlying designs rely on a systematic approach to create frameworks which strongly allude to circuitry boards, electric breaker boxes, parking garage blueprints, aerial views of urban settings, even zippers. The support for the work is watercolor paper which floats on a solid colored backing paper typically with a one or two inch border and it is framed consistently, either in a natural wood or white frame.

Surface Structure

In Surface Structure, 12” x 12” unframed, graphite and water color on paper, like much of her work Skylling relies heavily on the use of negative space. The positive consists of two columns of twenty-three equally spaced light gray green rectangles separated by narrow white lines. One thinner column hugs the right edge of the paper while a wider column is shifted about the same width as the aforementioned column, to the left of center with the four bottom rectangles of this sequence extending farther to the left. Parts of the spaces between the rectangles are painted with a darker gray green and attached to the wider set of rectangles is a vertical band that runs the length of the piece and is also painted a dark green. The modular design feels like it could be a potential two-dimensional model for a Donald Judd steel stacked wall piece.
In the triplet Black and White (The Beginning), Black and White (View), Black and White (Something Simple), each of these mixed media works is mounted on a grass green backing. In these three pieces she uses less negative space and a more all-over compositional technique with a limited palette of monochromatic gray. The patterns within the ‘grass’ surround evoke urban gardens. She makes good use of the door and heating grate on the back wall of the gallery to further reference the built construct.
I have a tendency to prefer the compositions that are more asymmetrical. In some of her larger singular pieces, perhaps because of greater spatial area she feels more willing to step into this less perfect world.
In Skylling’s world we enter into a tautly organized, clinically efficient place. A well-kept place, so clean and neat, soft, where unless you really look closely you can’t find any human presence, but it is within the details that one can actually see and feel the presence of a steady, gentle hand. One can’t help but appreciate the investment of time and acknowledge the prerequisite skilled labor required to produce the work for this exhibition. I would assume that the making of the pieces is a meditative exercise for the artist, but it is also a deeply rewarding experience for the viewer. It is apparent that Skylling has cut her teeth on the lessons of minimalism. Like much of the minimalism that has come before her, she creates a self-contained, self-made world. In many ways, I find it refreshing that a young female artist is making work that references minimalist giants such as Agnes Martin and Donald Judd and doesn’t feel the need or desire to grapple with the complexity of social issues that permeate every waking moment in our hyperreal lives. But, on the other hand, I wonder if the work isn’t too derivative, relying too much on the nostalgic love of a bygone era. Either way, I enjoy the respite.

Scott Turri

Volume 32 no 6 July/August 2018 p 29

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Will Davenport

Hi Scott, It’s what Annie Markovich refers to in her editorial, “Self-made cages or ones imposed by society often are unconsciously absorbed by citizens; they bind human thinking processes to thoughts that constrict creativity. Our society gives us culture miasma, an oppressive atmosphere to pursue transactional rather than relational exchange between each other.” Is it through Skylling’s grid-like designs that she can relate in her “self-contained, self-made world” of minimalism? Who doesn’t have nostalgia today of a bygone era? Wouldn’t we all rather not “grapple with the complexity of social issues that permeate every waking moment in our hyperreal lives”?… Read more »

Scott Turri

Thanks for reading and responding to my review, Will. Interesting tie in from Annie’s piece – sometimes being restricted can foster creativity. When we work inside our own constructed, orderly world it provides a sense of control over our lives I suppose. Working within a really small set of parameters can create a meditative experience for the maker and potentially the viewer. Perhaps it is a way to shut out or wall off the outsides world… I guess like the well-manicured, ½ acre lot in the suburbs at least that seems to be the belief.

Will Davenport

Hi Scott,
I am left with your image of the “the well-manicured, ½ acre lot in the suburbs”, wondering how long this can last at the expense of the rest of the world. It could also be why Skylling does grid-like designs, to shut out the outside world. I appreciated your answering me.

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