Anne Kingsbury at RedLine Milwaukee
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Upon entering RedLine Milwaukee’s gallery space, the first impression for visitors is light. It’s an airy, open space, with large windows casting sunshine that overtakes the gallery spotlights. The floors are worn and wooden, and exposed beams frame the walls. Covering the walls is an accumulation of large-scale prints and fiber work, all containing dark imagery that serves as a welcome diversion from the lightness of the gallery space.
Currently on display is the work of lifelong artist, community activist, and Wisconsin native Anne Kingsbury. The show spans decades of work, and includes several large-scale woodcuts Kingsbury created in the mid-to-late ’70s. It also presents the many media of ceramics, fibers, journaling, leatherwork, and beading that the artist has worked with since.
After spending time with the exhibition, it becomes apparent that Kingsbury’s lifelong source for artistic inspiration lies in the trials of womanhood. Her early work demonstrates the obsessive repetition and strenuous handwork of carving with a single-edge razor blade, as seen in the show’s opening panels of larger-than-life woodcuts of an elderly Adam and Eve. As her work moves through the years, the media she uses involve traditional crafts such as quilting; feminine activities like journaling or fabricating; and girlhood tokens like handmade dolls and ceramic hand mirrors.
The most apparent characteristic that all of Kingsbury’s pieces share is an overwhelming redundancy of the artist’s hand. The difficult materials she chooses to use further complicate the labor-intensive nature of each piece. Kingsbury embroiders and beads on hides or finished leather. She mounts heavy ceramic elements to her quilts with layers of thread. She obsessively uses tiny marks to create giant elements. These choices not only draw out the creative process to a span of decades, but they also give the viewer a sense that each piece represents countless hours of monotonous handwork, revealing the discipline and labor required for each to become a finished product.
Feminist themes in art can carry notes of hostility and purposefully uncomfortable viewing conditions. Kingsbury, however, has been able to capture a viewpoint that chronicles the daily struggles of being a woman while celebrating at the same time. The dark characteristics inherent in documenting the tedious nature of daily life, and the inclusion of dreams and text proclaiming that “Day by day became ever after,” provide the viewer with fodder to consider as the artist herself struggles with the dichotomy of women as saints and women as sinners.
The Anne Kingsbury Exhibition will be on view at RedLine Milwaukee through April 7.