Colour Play

May 2 – June 20, 2015
Opening reception: Saturday, May 2 from 3-5pm
Barbara Todd: Colour Play

Ways of Seeing, Squared
Text by Edwin Janzen

Sometimes you look, and then see. And sometimes you may need to decide what you see. Dividing her time between Montreal and Troy, New York, artist Barbara Todd is attentive to the scenes she encounters in her travels, photographing them and selecting from each a minimalist palette of just two colours. A jacket’s red and a barn’s brown, for example, or the blue and black of an airport baggage cart.

These chromatic pairs she reinvests into two-dimensional sewn fabric works, including a number of small, ten-inch-square pieces, some of which have served as studies for larger, quilted works also shown here. Besides the colour pairs, Todd’s work thus also comprises a second juxtaposition: a pairing of archives—Todd’s collected photographs with her substantial store of fabrics.

Todd has also created some smaller, seven-inch-square pieces, which combine multiple fabric and paper colours in squares, rectangles, diamonds and stripes, recalling symbolic systems like heraldic arms, semaphore flags, or playing cards. In truth, there is no such system here; yet, in their variety the squares create the impression of a visual language—like alphabetic characters, perhaps, consistent only in combination with one another.

Small wonder we call alphabetic letters “characters”; for doesn’t every letter possess a kind of characteristic “voicelet,” a truncated utterance meaningful only in relation to the others as together they form choruses of words, sentences, paragraphs? But here, amidst Todd’s particolour chorus, there is also ambivalence. The works invite comparisons with household cloths and linens yet elude such readings in the same moment. “We are not pot holders,” the little squares might be inclined to correct us.

They have a point—yet in a curious contrast, there’s no doubt that Todd’s large, quilted works are, indeed, quilts. The largest features two vertically oriented halves, one deep blue, one black. Another is similarly halved in red and dark burgundy-brown, while a third features a pin-striped, black rectangle surrounded on three sides by a larger blue square.

With the taciturn confidence of seated elders who know well that both size and tradition are on their side, these quilted pieces preside over the gallery as though they decided long ago to be here—courteously sending the artist an invitation, no doubt. Where the small squares form an aggregate of uncrackable code, of promised meaning, it is as though the quilts left the school of signification behind years ago. They are graduates, well past that hardscrabble place where irritable, put-upon works of art must strive to speak, to “mean” something. They have arrived at an easier, securer place. Maybe, a day at a time, we will too.