The work of Caprice Pierucci and Charles Heppner
written by Christina Martell
Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings
– Agnes Martin
Nature, in all its greatness and in all that we take for granted, is where we begin. We are cells, bones, water and energy. Like the trees and the animals, we begin small and dependent, but with luck, humility and love, we grow. Then we become part of the larger fabric or grain, so to speak. We are dependent on every atom and every atom on us (in order and in chaos) to expand, react, evolve and eventually decompose.
The sculptural works of Caprice Pierucci and photography of Charles Heppner pair beautifully to the reality and the mythos of our extraordinary human cycles. On view at Davis Gallery June 9 through July 21, 2018 …Of Warp and Weft, curated by Kevin Ivester, engenders reflection and meditation.
Both artists push and pull, as if in cycles of beginning and ending, innocence and knowing, grief and healing. Their contrasting mediums speak to the dynamics of the universe and to the everyday natural elements that fill our lives. They resonate with humility and give respect to entropy.
When you encounter Pierucci’s sculpture your body automatically reacts in curiosity; you’re invited and compelled to step in and lean closer. You twist your head and body to see more of the cyclical forms, and then find yourself desperately wanting to touch and smell the surface of the sculpture. The curvilinear nature of her pieces, made entirely of formed, sanded and stained wood are expertly sculpted, as if in clay. Whether they are light and airy in color or dark and knotted, they hold a harmonious song with key notes that expand and contrast unexpectedly. The rhythm keeps your eye continuously moving around and through each piece, seeing new loops with shadows of curious cascades.
“When you are in the center of the work—when you’ve turned off the noise, the outside words—then you are truly in the Zen space. You can focus and also be free.”
Pierucci’s origin inspiration is from her mother, Louise Pierucci Holeman—a gifted and known fiber artist in the 1970s. Caprice grew up seeing patterns and structures, and while her work has evolved, moving away from fabric, the armature has become the beauty of pattern and structure as metaphor for “eternity and time”. She thinks of her work “as having a progressive rhythm.”
The process starts with very raw and mundane materials. Pierucci works predominantly with plywood, often found in lumber yards, which is a mix of pressed soft woods that contains birch, pine, poplar, maple and red oak. First she cuts with hand tools and a jigsaw, glues, re-cuts and shapes, then sands and re-glues, reforms, laminates and repeats the process innumerous times. It is both additive and subtractive as the forms come into being. She trusts the grain and allows it to tell her when and where the next connection should go.
“When you are in the center of the work—when you’ve turned off the noise, the outside words—then you are truly in the Zen space. You can focus and also be free. This is using all of the right side of the brain. It’s a very special space,” says Pierucci.
The hand sanding she describes is a really remarkable part of the process. It is where the wood grain comes through and reveals the colors in unexpected ways. The grains can be subtle grays, soft greens and ombre hues. Sometimes a single vein of deep crimson or charcoal black will appear and surprise her. Every piece of wood is different, and every group of wood is like a family based on its type. Plywood might seem simple but many varieties of wood are used—whatever is available at a given time—and it is shipped all over the country in batches. So she has to be very careful not to throw away any scraps; because the color in each grain is specific, they react and take shape very differently.
During a visit to her studio, Pierucci pointed out a part of the beginning of her process: “Sometimes I write labels or notes on the wood for the separate pieces I need to join. It can be simple instruction like, “A to B” or “top right”. Then sometimes I write words on the rough parts that I need to spend time with. See here I’ve written ‘LOVE’ and ‘HATE’ on these two pieces. I needed to carve on both of those.”
Charles Heppner’s approach and medium could not be further from Pierucci’s, but their juxtaposition and visual dialogue is impeccable. There is an apparent rhythm and movement that joins the works. Hepper begins with a faithful investigation of meaning through interconnectedness. He describes this body of work as a study of “the sanctity of all living things.” He focuses on the weaver’s mind, sometimes called “the beginner’s mind”—a free and open space to reflect. His process—every bit as technical as Pierucci’s but using a completely different set of tools—begins by scanning cheesecloth on a flatbed scanner. These are his sketches, as he pushes and pulls the delicate fabric into formal drawings. Once digitized, the true sculpting and manipulating begins. The scanning, editing and re-surfacing is an incredible part of the process. It is meditative, precise, orderly and extremely time consuming. It demands complete and immersive attention. Pixel by minute pixel, order and disorder work in unison to tell a story. His studio and the natural world are his sanctuary. “I have a ritualistic, daily practice of looking up through the branches of a tree. It reminds me of the fundamental kinship between all living things,” says Heppner.
All of Heppner’s work in this series begins with the title, “Sacred Fabric”; this is important, because they are all part of a larger family. They are individual yet linked to a greater whole, just as we all come into being. The final works are technically called photographs, as they are printed and set on Dibond. However, their luminosity, structural strength and softness (nearly similar to skin texture) sets them greatly apart from a single-layer print. Heppner has researched extensively for these prints and works with one of the world’s finest printers, based in New York. The Dibond process uses two sheets of aluminum layered around a rigid plastic core. The printing surface is primed in a white eggshell base color, and, similar to a watercolor, the white of the images is actually not printed; it is the foundation of the primer, and this gives the entire surface a raised texture. Most viewers are surprised to see there is no formal framing or glazing. The float mount is very important to encompass the overall imagery and not to “frame” the works in any way. This series calls for a freedom of space, contemplation of origin and time, allowing the works to float as if in a dark sea of salinity and microorganisms. They nearly swim out of their own confines. It is impossible for the eye to see these layers and the mind to contemplate their rich dimensions without being in direct contact with the works.
“I have a ritualistic, daily practice of looking up through the branches of a tree. It reminds me of the fundamental kinship between all living things.”
Heppner’s study is inspired by many influences. He is inspired by the writings of Goethe and the works of Agnes Martin, among others. Like Pierucci, he is interested in concepts of time and space as they relate to our individual and collective journeys. He also grew up in a large Catholic family and is an avid reader of art, philosophy, religion, politics and history. In Catholicism, the fabric is a known archetype, from Mary’s iconic sky blue garments to the holy shroud. The medium of cloth has been venerated in religion and has also held a particular importance in history. Uniting these diverse influences, Heppner’s “Sacred Fabrics” are a seamless cloth representing social justice, democracy and an overall interconnectedness of our existence. As found in the philosophy of Transcendentalism, “there is a central belief system in the inherent goodness of people and nature.” At the core, most of us want and need the same things, but having the empathy and recognition of this connection is key, and it is often difficult to see beyond our vulnerable, single-perspective worlds. Heppner speaks passionately on how his work is investigating the immensity of our connections and yet revealing the fragility and complexity in us as humans as in nature.
Heppner meticulously edits and makes clean all the digital “noise” that is natural with the open weave-cloth. He takes it from a state of banality to an extraordinary, contemplative and other-worldly sculptural object. His images of undulating, spiraling and rolling forms are inherently interesting. The knotted waves forming curvilinear planes create a feeling of swaying, rocking motions. Our subconscious understands them as the beginning structure of all things, as if he is drawing what the inception of space and time could have looked like, if human eyes and senses were able to comprehend this phenomena.
Both artists’ mediums come from humble beginnings: cheesecloth, wood from a lumber yard, a flatbed scanner, sand paper, a drill, etc. They then add, subtract, edit and carve, as the works give back to them the time and care they have given. This act of reacting, reflecting, adhering and adjusting is a perfect metaphor for our own lives. Neither are seeking perfection in craft, and yet the contrast and outcome of their works is both formal and empathetic. “I love rote things. To be in the moment (working)—this is the purest, most creative space” says Pierucci.
…Of Warp and Weft is deftly named because the concept of interlacing is powerful in both artists’ approaches. “Warp and Weft are the origin components for weaving, the process of turning spun thread or yarn into fabric. The lengthwise (or longitudinal) warp yarns are held stationary in tension on a frame (or loom) while the transverse weft (sometimes called woof) is drawn through and inserted over-and-under the warp.” This creates a strong grid of flat cloth. Scale is also important: the images here alone do not convey the way light, particles and space play important roles to both the sculptural and photographic mediums. Both artists are cognizant of scale in relation to the human body—our limitations and idealized expansions.
Within a narrow span of duration of space the work of art concentrates a view of the human condition; and sometimes it marks the steps of progression, just as a man climbing the dark steps of a medieval tower assures himself by the changing sights glimpsed through its narrow windows that he is getting somewhere after all.
– Rudolf Arnheim “Entropy and Art”
The personal experience of interacting with a work of art, its democratic inclusion no matter what the medium is, has a moment when the viewer and the artist merge into a venerated time and space. The viewer may question the mystery of process, be inspired via memory, or moved to associate the image/work with an intention or goal. These artists are not depicting obvious icons, and yet their focus on universal and interdependent relationships in nature (vines, arteries, rivers, woven cloth) are intrinsic and meaningful.
The work of each artist holds time in a phenomenological sense. They both seek to understand the universe and nature through the study of time. Even if the answers are not clear, these works have a direct experience with their maker in self-realization and awareness. The gift is sharing their mediums with us. “I have to remind myself and I say it often, it is okay to make something of beauty,” says Pierucci
Both approaches hold deference to their processes. There is a humble submission and respect, an understanding that the cloth and the grain will reveal truth if given time and love. These artists express the sacred space of creating art for the sake of beauty and as well as continue to ask life’s questions with intrepid curiosity.
For more on Charles – a new podcast by Scott David Gordon, produced June 3, 2018
For more on Caprice – she is a currently a featured artist in Luxe magazine