Tucson Museum of Art Gallery Guide

Tucson Museum of Art Gallery Guide

“Luminous Structure”
By Julie Sasse

December 2003

Arizona artist Carrie Seid manipulates the luminosity of fine stretched silk over copper structures to create luscious, high relief wall pieces in rich, jewel-like tones. White silk whispers with hints of color like the subtle variations of the petal of a flower. Constructing her forms to catch, hold, and reflect light, Seid creates a sense of illusionistic space, focusing on light as a metaphor for hope. She carefully formulates her copper sub-structures for maximum spatial results, extruding space by tightly enveloping the form in the highly elastic fabric that belies it’s strength by the softness of it’s surface and delicacy of it’s coloration. The end result of her efforts is a seductive form that exudes an emotive quality by the changing nature of the light and form, depending on the viewer’s vantage point. “I want the work to affect people like music does,” explains Seid. “Just like music creates it’s own language, my work has it’s own intrinsic power through it’s references to nature, architecture, and structure painting.”

Her approach to structure reflects the progression and transformation seen in natural growth systems. For instance, Seid finds inspiration from the chambered nautilus, and it’s many curvilinear, yet rigid forms. Biomorphic shapes also offer artistic opportunities, as in the suggestion of a skeletal structure under the top skin of an animal. Constructed on a base of plywood, Seid’s unique wall sculptures are cut and formed from sheet metals such as copper, brass, and aluminum. The metal forms an understructure that supports a stretched layer of silk. Modulated color, created by underpainting dyed silk, often enhances the depth, structure, and dimension of the individual pieces. Sometimes the artist applies oil to the surface “skin” of silk to create various degrees of translucence, allowing the outer layer to be visually penetrable like a three-dimensional watercolor.

Seid has long been attracted to textiles as a medium for creative expression, in particular for it’s dependence on structure. Since she first became interested in art as a teenager in Chicago, Seid has been keenly interested in ordered layering. At first she worked in the medium of watercolor, carefully constructing compositions in grids, thereby declaring the “space between layers” as her area of inquiry. Attending the Rhode Island School of Design in the early 1980’s, she sought a practical application for her creative talents. Her early influence at this time were Robert Irwin, whose work dealing with light and space in California was legendary; Eve Hesse, who incorporated unusual materials in her sculptural installations, and Ross Bleckner, known for his optical illusions where flickering light creates challenging visual experiences.

At RISD she noticed that her colleagues who were working in fibers embraced color and materials in a manner that seemed more alive and animated than her medium of graphics. In 1983 she began taking special courses in sculpture and textiles at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, further familiarizing herself with the intersection between form and color. In particular, Warren Seelig, a noted fiber artist, guided and encouraged her to try new challenges.

By the time she entered graduate school at the noted Cranbrook Academy of Art, Seid had changed her focus to fine art. This shift allowed her to create structure and contour while still addressing concepts of light and space. Donald Judd, noted minimalist sculptor; James Turrell, a light and space artist, and glass artist Christopher Wilmarth were among her influences at the time. The achievements of these artists encouraged Seid to experiment in new ways that merged her interests in the layered qualities of watercolor with the structural qualities of a three-dimensional form.

Seid’s most important mentor at Cranbrook was Gerhardt Knodel, a major figure in Fiber Art at the time, and one of the first artists to create fiber sculpture. Knodel encouraged her to push her ideas beyond the selection of materials, noting, “your work is about light. Instead of illustrating light with mylar, use light!” Knodel suggested that Seid make sandwiches of translucent materials to see if she could contain light. This advice was the breakthrough she needed. Since that time, Seid has worked with the interplay of material and structure. In recent years she has experimented with how light reflection and structure define each other and how the quality of light can conjure an emotive response. Explains Seid about her process, “I like to work in a way that makes the viewer ask, ‘Is it solid? Liquid? In the process of becoming one or the other?’ I believe that art has to be worth making- compelling in some way.”

After graduation from RISD, Seid worked for two years as a textile designer for Burlington Industries in New York, an experience that proved to be extremely rewarding for the artist. Subsequent work as a designer of paper-based jewelry in Rhode Island, further refined her ideas and skills and convinced her to focus on fine art. By 1998, she was teaching fibers and foundation courses at the acclaimed School of the Art Institute of Chicago and later at Arizona State University. Now fully engaged as a professional artist, Seid has been included in group exhibitions in such institutions as the Rochester Art Center in Minnesota; the Nelson Fine Arts Center in Arizona; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in New York. Garnering the attention of critics, her work has been described as “diaphanous veils of melting color, fusing from one space to the next.” In the past two years, she has expanded into the realm of public art, obtaining several important public art commissions in the Tucson area. In 2001, The Tucson Museum of Art acquired one of her stretched silk forms for it’s permanent collection from the Arizona Biennial. Says Seid of her rising reputation as a fine artist and responsibility to her audience: “I want to engage the viewer on a personal level. A lot of art is made these days to be referential without being expressive. Artists today imbue codes in their work that can’t be cracked. Art is a language, and if it is, you have to say something. I feel a responsibility to the viewer and myself. One of the jobs of the artist is to push the limits of what’s possible in art making. It is so personal, but it is meant to be shared. Sometimes I’m serving it, and sometimes it serves me.”

Indeed, her art serves her well. In turn, her remarkable, luminous forms serve us all.