Craft & Folk Art Museum
Merion Estes: Unnatural Disasters
September 30—January 6, 2019
he power of the decorative in Merion Estes’ hands is that she can make abstraction and pattern slide so swiftly from visual beguilement into active riot. This 20-year survey at the Craft and Folk Museum pulls together some of the artist’s most restless and disturbing takes on the beleaguered state of the natural world.
Most of these artworks are tapestry-sized, multiple-layered fabric collages made with photo transfers as well as myriad decorative shapes, landscape fragments or animal images laboriously hand cut from mass produced printed fabric. The elements are assembled quilt-like and glued down into repetitive patterns or suggestive landscapes on unstretched fabric grounds. But it is the way Estes then stains, paints, drips or over sprays these fragments with aggressive, eye-popping yellows, oranges, reds and electrified blues — along with sprinkles of garish glitter — that makes her surfaces into a no-holds-barred call for attention to environmental destruction.
“Cooling Trend” (2017) is a large-scale (86 x 111 inch) collaged sky of radiant orange visual heat. Amid its fiery cross currents, wind tossed black blossoms and red burning silhouettes of flying black crows, small patches of fresh vivid green seem to shrink under the barrage of a number of yellow rising suns. Waving through it all though is a cool ribbon of transparent blue. Yet even this moment of relief seems fraught as the blue current carries with it a rain of black drops suggesting the presence of contamination in the wind.
Unnatural Disasters presents nature as a traumatized landscape where human industry has forcefully collided against the planet’s delicate balance. The dire threat envisioned here may be repellant, but the artist’s adroit use of pattern’s decorative rhythms, gangbuster colors and fragments of delicate imbedded beauty compels us to keep looking.