Reflex Magazine
November/December 1990
Ag47 Studio/Gallery
Seattle, WA

Fragile Nature of Specific Life

The old Jackson Street space has been divided into smaller studio spaces. The resulting combination of a gallery and a jewelry studio serves both parties well, allowing the individual renting the shop to be intent and absorbed in real work (that is, "art making), when not answering the visitor's comments and questions. And Gail Grinnell's "Piece Work"—a show of woodblock prints and mixed media paintings from her Centrum residency earlier this year—provided a graphic contrast to the slender toothlike silver pieces on display. (Maybe this is a common venue nowadays, but I don't often get to look at art in an artmaking environment; studio space beats the hell out of showroom austerity.)

Of this heavy, graphic, black-and white, multi-textured experience, the image of the heart is grueling. The heart, the ribcage, shards of vertebrae—these stark abstract shapes belie the delicacy of the paper Grinnell uses for collaging and printmaking, and the palpable delicacy of the body parts these shapes represent. The "Portraits" series of smaller prints of the heart in their repetition remind me of how fragile and yet vital our bodies are; we are, after all, made up of living tissue, and our hearts, that hollow, muscular organ which pumps blood to our brain and sentience to our being, is encased in a pulsing, paper-thin, membranous tissue. Grinnell's use of materials— highly absorbent fibers, newspaper, and strips of scalloped and filigreed wall paper— fills out the metaphor nicely.

Two much larger pieces, Mermaid and Swimmers, are literally gorgeous, ambitious works. Mermaid hearkens back to the work remember from Seattle Women's Caucus for Art show at the now-defunct Significant Form Gallery in 1987: powerful thick lines define a bent head, sadness or sorrow looming, but comfort present in the very strength of the gestural tail. Swimmers is also expressive of sorrow and a sensual, viscous strength two mermaid shapes curled toward each other, barely touching, both about to whack that powerful tail. These figures are realized by outlines over layers of texture, pattern, and color (checkerboard, scalloped wallpaper, spots of magnesium red). Their presence rises out of the layers of material like rays of blood over a bionic world.

— Laura Lee Bennett