Gail Grinnell: Bitter Love

For a decade Northwest native Gail Grinnell has constructed her work from layers of fabric and paper, using collage, drawing, pattern, and light as metaphors for personal history, memories, and the repetition of everyday activities. Her works may be transparent, but they are far from simple. In Bitter Love, on view at Francine Seders Gallery in Seattle (November 17- December 24, 2006), Grinnells large-scale organic forms are made up of vintage dressmaking patterns layered with silk and polyester interfacings and overlaid with intricate black and white drawings of human anatomy illustrations of sinew, ligament, tendon, muscle, and bone are likened to tailors tools, conflating the connectivity of the body with thc craft of the clothing that covers it. The winding in and out of manmade and organic forms visually joins different pieces and results in a literal and metaphorical body of work.

Bitter Love was born of two motivating forces. The first, a child's fancy dress, offers a visual basis for the feminine ruffles and shrilling forms that dominate Grinnnell's show. The second, a poem by Richard Wilbur titled "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World," describes a man, precariously balanced between wakefulness and sleep, who imagines that pieces of clothing blowing on the line are soaring spirits. The poem offers a meditation on corporeality—literally, the reality of the body—and provides the symbolic underpinning for Grinnell's paper and fabric creations.

Grinnell, as a mother and a daughter, has spent much of her life caring for those too young or too old to fend for themselves. By salvaging her mothers old sewing patterns and painting them with a child's dress turned-model, Grinnell forges connections to both worlds. In Arlene, Rosie, and Angel, the patterns' seam and dart notations intermingle with roiling ruffles, ruching, and a landscape of surging pleats that threaten to lift the works right off the walls to which they are delicately pinned. The slightly larger Izabella—its title honorific of a new granddaughter—is a sea of pink dotted organza, vaguely embryonic, appearing to float weightlessly like the soul in Wilbur's poem that is "bodiless and simple as false dawn"

In the Grimm brothers' fairy tale "The Brave Little Tailor," a tailor employs his belt as a billboard to announce the supernatural feat of having slain seven with one blow. Grinnell, on the contrary, uses visual metaphors borrowed from the seamstress to support the living with work that waltzes effortlessly between past, present, and future

– Suzanne Beal