At last! Someone has finally found a use for knitting, that entanglement of yarn often used to create ill-fitting sweaters. Multimedia artist Joy Kreves uses knitting to create components for her wall-size installations — her fibrous masses look like a cross between a yarmulke and a Rasta cap, or maybe knitted mushrooms. They are cute and fuzzy and brownish gray.
The knitted pieces echo her ceramic lattices – strips of clay she weaves as supplely as the yarn.
Ms. Kreves says she likes working in open designs because lattices are like the web of life. “You never see things as they truly are because your personal lattice blocks what you see.”
There are rocks, too, in her installations; look closely and you will see some of these rocks are made from porcelain. And poetry — Ms. Kreves, a classically trained violinist, weaves words and lyrics into the picture. An ingredients list for her works would include ceramics, painting, fiber art and found materials.
“Solastalgia,” the centerpiece of her show Translating Nature, on view at the Gallery at Rider University Sept. 30 to Oct. 30, combines all these elements and more. There are lichen-covered branches from which hangs a knit waterfall. There is so much going on in “Solastalgia” (rhymes with nostalgia), and yet it all hangs together.
Solastalgia is “the melancholia or homesickness you have when you remain locked in your home environment while all around you, your home environment is being desolated
in ways that you cannot control,” writes Ms. Kreves, the daughter of a school teacher and Unitarian minister who grew up in Illinois.
“This past year I have become aware of the imminent danger to the Delaware River,” continues the artist who has exhibited at the D&R Greenway, the Erdman Gallery, the Silva Gallery, the Trenton City Museum and many other local venues. She also ran her own gallery in Frenchtown for many years.
“The practices employed by companies drilling for gas along the Delaware are jeopardizing not only its beauty, but the wildlife and health of the whole ecosystem in a similar way as the current BP oil drilling disaster has ruined businesses and all sorts of animal and plant life. As I
have walked along the Delaware, I have studied the various textures of the water. I feel a deep sense of gratitude for this threatened river, whose beauty changes from hour to hour and is a regular supply of visual gifts, and that gratitude and concern led me to create ‘Solastalgia.'”
It all began with a blue yarn the Ewing resident found. “The yarns you get these days are so gorgeous and inspire you to use them. It looked like water with all its shades of blue and I thought I’d crochet a river and plant other materials in it.”
As she is talking about her work, a group of Rider students who will work as gallery sitters arrive. Ms. Kreves hands them a plastic spray bottle, and explains how the lichens and moss on her installations need to be misted so they don’t dry out.
River tiles in “Solastalgia” are made of porcelain mounted on birch panels and painted with watercolor to look, well, watery. Each and every piece was put up separately, and it took Ms. Kreves a week to install the show, along with help from Gallery Director Harry Naar and his students.
She has been working on “Solastalgia” since January. “I wanted to make it like you were walking along, and there’d be interruptions,” she says. She used to think landscapes were boring, but has come to rethink the landscape. Ms. Kreves credits the D&R Greenway’s Carolyn Edelmann with teaching her the landscape “is an endless bounty of richness as a source for art.”
Looking out the window, “I see wood and trees and grass and cement and metal. I don’t want to go back to the studio and paint and translate it into one medium, but I like to combine. My work is not realistic, but this way is more realistic because that’s what’s in our world.”
Another wall installation, “Electron Madness,” was inspired by a film her biologist husband turned her on to, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” that got her thinking about electrons. “You can’t see electrons, but I made them red – this is a fantasy.” The saucer-size red electrons are made of glazed porcelain with broken mirror and glass, holes and craters, and color blips.
While she was trying to create the electrons, another force was at work that made her fabricate flowers. “I was having an argument with the piece and wrote it down,” she says. She wrote “The Flower Rebellion,” crossed it out and wrote “Electron Revolt.” “Soon they were out of my control.”
Indeed, there are ceramic flowers in this piece, some more distinct than others. “I gave in,” she says.
“Electron Madness” is accompanied by her lyrics for “Electron Playground,” with music by Wilbo Wright. Ms. Kreves collaborated with musicians in New York in the 1980s to perform in Soho galleries and at BargeMusic in Brooklyn, making stage sets as well.
After battling the flowers in “Electron Madness,” she finally succumbed and created “Spring Exuberance,” a sort of large platter of invented flowers in fanciful colors.
Ms. Kreves doesn’t begin her projects with a sketch. “Often, the inspiration for a particular image in a mystery to me, but sometimes it reveals itself to me while working on the piece, or even after the piece is completed,” she says in the exhibition catalog. “Sometimes I begin with an inspiration following from a continuing thread of work, a personal experience, or often from something I’ve read like a poem or a news item. I am also very inspired by textures and materials… art just takes you where it wants you to go.”
In “Biography of a Moth,” she started working with mixed media and crochet, and realized the piece started being about her mother who always had gardens. Ms. Kreves incorporated a sepia-toned photograph of her mother wearing a jacket whose flaps reminded her of moth wings.
“My mother was quiet and tread lightly on the earth so I thought of her as a moth with a web of yarn and ceramic flowers,” says Ms. Kreves. A photo of trees in the background has cutouts, or moth holes. “Moth holes are really all most of us know about moths,” she says. “When my mother died, I thought, did anyone really know her? Who was she really? Like a moth, she didn’t flash her colors. She was flitting with garden flowers but not in your face.”
Translating Nature, artwork by Joy Kreves, is on view at Rider University Art Gallery, Bart Luedeke Center, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrence, Sept. 30-Oct. 30. Opening reception: Sept. 30, 5-7 p.m. Artist’s talk: Oct. 7, 7 p.m. Gallery hours: Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun. noon-4 p.m. 609-896-5168; http://www.rider.edu/artgallery