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Anne-Marie May & Isabella Darcy Soft Furnishing 28 July - 19 August 2023

SOFT FURNISHING presents a dynamic pairing of works by Anne-Marie May and Isabella Darcy, artists of different generations, who share similar approaches to making and materiality, albeit with distinct differences. An outcome of May and Darcy’s recent conversation and ongoing dialogue, the exhibition is centred in their respective uses of soft fabrics, and the transformation of these materials into abstract and spatially oriented forms. The exhibition’s title plays on the notion of home furnishings—evoking textiles in interior spaces—yet is deliberately left open-ended, offering a gently teasing pretext for our viewing of the works.

Since the late 1980s, May has used a range of materials, both soft and hard, applying varying experimental processes to manipulate them and find form. Her investigations have often depended upon the manipulation of a flat sheet of material, whether denim, felt, paper or acrylic Perspex. In SOFT FURNISHING she presents CARTES 2023 a large textile work made from a modified piece of black carpet that in joyful defiance of the carpet’s original purpose as a floor covering, is suspended vertically from the ceiling. Placed out from the walls, at a metre or so’s distance from the gallery’s North facing windows, CARTES fully inhabits the architecture, inviting our encounter. In the process of making this work, May has hand stitched her way across the textile’s surface, pushing and pulling her sizeable needle and thread through its’s sturdy, resistant thickness. The resulting design—mirrored on the carpet’s reverse side—resembles an abstracted cartography, and indeed May was influenced by thirteenth-century Portolan nautical charts. May considers CARTES a continuation of her expanded drawing practice. In recent years she has used CAD computer programs to create linear networks that map out virtual space. These drawings have then become manifest as three-dimensional forms in sculptural or textile works.

Bringing an element of colour to CARTES May’s embroidered lines radiate like cosmic bursts downwards and upwards from the opposite corners of the carpet, or travel between left and right edges. Where the lines intersect, May has cut shaped voids into the textile’s surface, allowing light from the windows to stream through. The effect is strikingly optical. The holes create points of glowing luminosity that offset the carpet’s solidity and counterpoint the dense, light-absorbing qualities of its blackness. The sun comes out, and suddenly the work seems almost to dissolve into its environment.

Isabella Darcy pieces together her grande formes 2023 with flair and saavy, leaning into her feel for streetwear, while bringing new inflection to geometric abstraction. An intuitive, highly visual mix of shapes, textures, patterns, and block colours is brought together in this series on a larger scale than before, a development partly inspired by the commanding size of May’s carpet. Darcy stretches her soft fabrics over shaped pieces of wood and MDF to create units from which she can build larger works with layered compositions. Diverse and sometimes incongruous materials are equally celebrated in a knowing subversion of fashion and social codes, mixing low- and hi-tech, cheap and expensive, and blurring the boundaries between tacky and chic. (One might think of a rack in the Op Shop, where all manner of clothing is equalised.)

Darcy has worked with found textiles, typically denim, since 2017. In grande formes, she diversifies her fabric choices, extending her borrowed vocabulary. Each work has its own distinct look. In grande forme #2, remnant pieces of low-grade velvet and faded denim jeans are matched with black synthetic material cut from a high-end store shopping bag. In grande forme #4, a flashy pink length of stretchy ribbed fabric is teamed with grey velvet, and navy-blue textile from a pair of Nike Dri-Fit pants. grande forme #1 is an eye-catching ensemble in which a classic yet edgy tartan cloth (think Westwood and McQueen) is complemented by part of a sporty red and white Manchester United towel, and further offset by a panel of burgundy upholstery fabric. Darcy balances and counterposes these mixed and potentially clashing elements through her keen sense of formal composition. Her manner of combining diagonal and vertically oriented planes makes unmistakable allusion to the geometric language of early twentieth-century constructivist painting, which she updates through her use of contemporary fabrics, and their implied societal use.

From street fashion to abstract cartography, Darcy’s grande forme and May’s CARTES join forces in this exhibition to furnish our minds and senses with plentiful material for thought and pleasure.
Sue Cramer, July 2023