Review | Jen Pack

By Jacqueline Hirsh Greene


Textile artist Jen Pack is acutely attuned to the potential of color, texture, and space. Pack is the first feature in galleryFRITZ’s virtual series titled FRITZ | stories, documenting upcoming digital shows and new bodies of work. In her upcoming April 2020 digital exhibit, works are comprised of three mediums: fabric and thread on poplar, fabric and thread collage, and colored pencil, thread on vellum. 

By way of introduction, we have to address the peacock in the room: “Pavo,” the electric blue-bodied wild bird that roams Pack’s Los Ranchos neighborhood. On MIDNIGHT’S FIRE (23 x 20 x 3 in) and its flamboyant color scheme, Pack references Pavo as a source for discovering intense value in the color blue. From left to right there is a gradient from low to high-value. Working with gradients is one of the many ways Pack extends space. The relative flatness of fabric and thread enters deeply spacial domains with color illusion, the gradient utilizing an atmospheric perspective especially when coupled with an angled trapezoidal frame. Thin stripes of blue fabric are broken up with neon or neutral patterned stripes also arranged and sewn according to value. These warm color bursts are reintegrated remnants from prior pieces. For roughly two decades, Pack has collected scraps of leftover fabric. The inclusion of prior material in current patterns stages an intertextuality among her work.

In another fabric and thread on poplar, MOSAIC RHYTHM (21 x 80 x 3 in) is composed of two juxtaposed frames, a smaller trapezoid and larger parallelogram. As cooler, darker colors recede in the larger panel, the smaller panel’s warmer, more intense hues come forward. MOSAIC RHYTHM can be viewed as a trompe-l’œil illusion: it appears as if the two panels are actually one panel that has been partially flipped over, exposing its back side with a different color scheme. This geometric extension of space is reminiscent of Ron Davis’ opticality, although magnified by Pack’s sculptural medium and intricate thread work. Illusions of a flexible fold in material are realized as imaginary when reminded of the piece’s rigidity.

Pack finds consistent meaning in duality and coexistence, her work has even been described an “artistic oxymoron.” Saturated stripes of different hues are bound to contrast. Contrast is likewise formed when supple cloth wraps around solid frameworks. Alone the construction involved in the above mentioned works on poplar involve contrasting processes. The laborious, physical engineering in woodwork is met with the art of sewing a corresponding textile. Gender associations surface, given that sewing and needlework are conventionally domestic, feminine crafts. Yet the building of raw material, sawing, sanding and drilling, is a conventionally masculine pursuit. Pack, very much aware of how gender encodes her work and of the viewer’s gendered perception, embraces these paradigms. Her work is never one thing.

New works using fabric and thread find a rather looser energy. Pack refers to these smaller pieces as sketches: they experiment with color combinations and involve collaging free-form remnants from larger projects. Instead of being stretched on wood, these composites are framed between sheets of glass. They exist as raw artifacts, but take on new complexities in their own right. An initial impression of ODDS & ENDS #14 (14.50 x 14.50 x 1 in) suggests a similar compositional sensibility to first generation Abstract Expressionism. A squarish shape with a grid is the focal point of the piece. Accents of hot pink and yellow in the center add an intentional playfulness to the dark, sophisticated palette. As it expands outwards, scraps become more organic, frayed-edges and loose threads are allowed to dance. The work hangs on the wall suspended in space by glass, shapes appear to be floating. Fabrics of varying texture and opacity create added dimension and perspective as well. 

ODDS & ENDS #7 (14.50 x 14.50 x 1) is more reminiscent of geometric abstraction, though the geometry is askew with its push and pull. It is more controlled than ODDS & ENDS #14, but the works are complementary in this way. Here, the focal point is rather a small window of negative space. Tonality is neutral with beige, off-white and an occasional transparent aqua or orange red. This is an incredibly candid series of abstractions that reinforce the artist’s duality. Works are at once fragile in their delicate stitching and physicality, and equally as muscular and bold in their spontaneous, found material expression.

Pack reveals another new series of small pieces. Exploring the relationship between drawing and thread, these works are more accessible representations of larger site-specific installations. With colored pencil and thread on vellum, there is a tension created in both content and form. A MOONSHOT!! (BRIGHTENING THE DEEPENING DESIRE) (17.50 x 14.50 x 2 in) balances in order and chaos. Vibrant colored pencil lines of various lengths extend diagonally. Each drawn line is completed with a thread on either end, so they appear to be continuous lines. This is an effective illusion combining thread and pencil to subvert expectations. Chaos occurs at the bottom, where a dynamic tangle of thread and small fabric scraps actually escape the composition. Uncontainable clusters of bright thread are anchored by tight, contained lines.

IN POWERFUL SOFTNESS, THE LIGHT RADIATES HEALING (17.50 x 17.50 x 2 in) plays with symmetries by merging half a concentric, half a radial motif. The pattern emerges slowly with subtle, pastel colors, particularly with a generous use of yellow. The work has a hypnotizing rhythm. Small-scale precision gives a large-scale effect, shrinking the viewer as a witness of elaborate design. Gravity again pulls thread beyond the intended picture plane, with an almost animal-like quality about the way the fiber hangs like a tail or mane. In content, the pieces reflect an innate conformity in collision with wild, emotional tendencies. Formally, they combine meticulous thread work with pristine yet imperfect drawn lines. This poignant series on vellum along with fabric and thread collage work are new exciting additions to look out for in Pack’s upcoming exhibit accessible to view online.


galleryFRITZ | storiesavailable works

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