Category: art + identity

Art & Identity: the Catalog

art + identity: an international view catalog
art + identity: an international view; a browngrotta arts exhibition catalog

We produced our 49th publication this spring, a 156-page catalog, art + identity: an international view. The catalog features work by 62 artists who have lived and worked in 22 countries in the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America. We asked the artists who participated to provide us works that illustrated how identity and influence are reflected in their art. We selected works by artists no longer living on the same basis. The artists involved took an expansive approach, but as you’ll see in the catalog, a few themes emerged. Some artists, for example, were influenced by  the art of other cultures  — through visiting or study. For Dawn MacNutt, it was classical Greek sculpture she saw at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and then in Greece that she has translated in her willow figures. For Paul Furneaux, influences included time spent in Mexico, at Norwegian fjords and then, Japan, where he studied Japanese woodblock. For Adela Akers it was Peruvian weavers; Agneta Hobin,

Nnenna Okore spread
Nnenna Okore spread art + identity: an international view catalog spread

a trip to Zuni pueblos Nnenna Okore was raised in and studied in Nigeria. Common within her body of works is the use of ordinary materials, repetitive processes and varying textures that make references to everyday Nigerian practices and cultural objects. Katherine Westphal had what one writer called “magpie-like instincts.” She called herself a tourist – “then it all pops out in my work – someone else’s culture and mine, mixed in the eggbeater of my mind…” Others found inspiration close to home. Though she travelled extensively and studied in France, Canadian artist, Micheline Beauchemin repeatedly returned to the St. Lawrence River as a theme.

Mary Merkel-Hess catalog spread
Mary Merkel-Hess art + identity: an international view catalog spread

Mary Merkel-Hess evokes the plains of her home in Iowa like “the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed,” a quote from Willa Cather, which Mary says she, too, has seen. Mérida, Venezuela, the place they live, and can always come back to, has been a primary influence on Eduardo Portillo’s and Maria Davila’s our way of thinking, life and work. Its geography and people have given them a strong sense of place. Processes and materials motivated a third group of artists. “I draw inspiration from age-old Indian and Japanese traditional resist-dyeing techniques such as bandhini and shibori ,” says Neha Puri Dhir.

Neha Puri Dhir catalog spread
Neha Puri Dhir catalog spread art + identity: an international view

Ed Rossbach was also a relentless experimenter who learned and adapted dozens of techniques and unusual materials from lacemaking with plastic tubes to enlarging then reinterpreting images from Coptic tapestries to weaving raffia on a loom after studying weavings from Africa. Susie Gillespie grows flax from seed that she processes by retting, breaking and hackling before spinning it into yarn.  The clay from Shigaraki, Japan is crucial to Yasuhisa Kohyama’s work – through the techniques he has pioneered, he aims to highlight the upheavals evident in its creation, including volcanic eruptions and the erosion of water and wind.
Other artists took a more interior and personal view: Aleksandra Stoyanov of the Ukraine and now Israel uses images of ancestors in her work, this time images from childhood, and she notes that the child comes with us into adulthood. Irina Kolesnikova also grew up in Russia. Aspects of her everyday life there are reflected in artworks that feature her Alter Ego – “a slightly comic, clumsy human of an uncertain age (who is just a survivor struggling to keep his existence balanced).” Personal and universal connections to the sensuality and materiality of the woven image motivates Lia Cook.

art + identity: an international view; a browngrotta arts exhibition catalog

She is particularly interested in the emotional connection to memories of touch and cloth. She’s worked with neurologists to measure brainwaves for people who look at a photograph versus a woven version of the same image. The wider world and related issues were the subject for others. Nancy Koenigsberg’s work for this exhibit originated as a visual and emotional response the scenes destruction from the recent California wildfires and to the unfolding ecological disaster of which they are symptomatic. Lewis Knauss’ work has also begun to reflect the worldwide concern for climate change. American artist Mary Giles began creating wall panels that dealt with her concerns about population some years before her death in 2018, exploring in them ideas of density and boundaries.

photo spread
Norma Minkowtz, The Path (pages 50-51) Lilla Kulka, Odchodzacy and Co-Bog Zlaczyl (pages 114-115) Gyöngy Laky, Neo Rupee and Reach (pages 40-41)

The catalog includes an essay, The Textile Traveller, by Jessica Hemmings, Ph.d., Professor of Crafts, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, which creates perspective. This exhibition, “reminds us that the textile is an expert traveller – adept at absorbing new surroundings and influences while retaining elements of previous contexts and functions. Many physically embody the buzz word of our times: resilience. Attention to the textile’s many histories and journeys can help us trace and begin to understand the, often overwhelming, complexities contemporary societies face.”

Marianne Kemp horsehair weaving
Marianne Kemp 5mk Drifting Dialogues horsehair, cotton, linen 45” x 42” x 3.5 “, 2018

The catalog can be ordered for $50 plus tax and shipping on our website at browngrotta arts: http://store.browngrotta.com/art-identity-an-international-view/


Art Assembled: New This Week April

Transition, Neha Puri Dhir, resist dye, silk, 23” x 34”, 2015. Photo by Tom Grotta.

What a month! April was quite the month for us here at browngrotta arts as we hosted our once-a-year Art in the Barn exhibition art + identity: an international view. The exhibition was a great success and we are so thankful for all the support near and far. At the beginning of April, we shared pieces by Neha Puri Dhir and Paul Furneaux, both of whom are new to browngrotta arts. Dhir’s piece Zazen caught the eye of many on social media, becoming our most liked “New This Week” post to date. In recent years, Dhir has experimented with the meticulous and labor-intensive techniques of shibori (bandhini  India and adire in Nigeria. In doing so, Dhir sources all of her fabric from places all across India. As visible in Transition Dhir’s design influenced by the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic, which is centered on the acceptance of impermanence and imperfection. 

City Trees II and City Lights II, Paul Furneaux
Japanese woodcuts on wood , 19.5” x 40” x 4”, 2015. Photo by Tom Grotta.

      Like Dhir, Scottish artist Paul Furneaux also draws inspiration from a Japanese aesthetic. Furneaux’s works, City Trees II and City Lights II, which grace the cover of our art + identity: an international view catalog, were made using the traditional Japanese woodblock printing technique known as mokuhanga. In making his City Trees and City Lights series, Furneaux wanted to try out chunkier forms with wider surfaces. “I was aware that the interaction between the two forms was important,” explains Furneaux “once I had established this relationship with the wooden form, I became very interested in how the clothing of the form made the forms spatial interaction more complex.” 

Coques, Brigitte Bouquin-Sellès, felt, 76.75” x 51”, 2019. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Premiering in April were also works by Nnenna Okore and Brigitte Bouquin Sellés. In works like Coulée les de fils, Brigitte Bouquin Sellès uses selvedge ends, produced during the manufacture of the well-known Cholet handkerchief on looms in France. These strips are cut automatically by the machine from the outer edges of the weave. The artist reinterprets this manufactured material, made up of falls destined for destruction. The mutation is profound, these falling fabrics become works that are born by gravity. Using this material, the creation mode of Brigitte Bouquin Sellès is original: it creates not by adding material but not subtraction either, in this case, small pieces of weft still attached to the warp, snatched one by one to achieve the artist’s ends.

The Path, Norma Minkowitz, mixed media, 14” x 52” x 52,” 2013. Photo by Tom Grotta.

      To wrap up April, we shared Norma MinkowitzThe Path. The piece is very personal for Minkowitz, in creating it she explored her thoughts, identity and how she feels about the path her life is taking. Minkowitz even used a casting of her own head for the center of the piece, painting it with a camouflage pattern to camouflage her feelings and fears, a process you can see in this video.

      If you weren’t able to make it to the exhibition, have no fear, you can still see the pieces featured in our coveted exhibition catalog art + identity: an international view, which is available for purchase in our online store HERE.


art & identity: Four More Days to See the Exhibition

We’ve been steadily busy since our Artists reception and opening on April 27th.

Participants in art + identity at browngrotta arts through May 5th. Clockwise from upper left: Lewis Knauss (US); Dawn MacNutt (CN); Ulla-Maija Vikman (FI); Agneta Hobin (FI); Judy Mulford (US); Pat Campbell (US); Tamiko Kawata (JP); Nancy Koenigsberg (US); Wendy Wahl (US); Norma Minkowitz (US). Photo by Carter Grotta.

Yesterday we hosted 38 students from the Fine Arts program at Bishop’s University outside Quebec. Groups from the Westport Art Center and the Surface Design Association have visited and the Textile Study Group of New York and members of the Aldrich Museum of Art will join us later in the week. \

Students from the Fine Arts program at Bishop’s University outside Quebec. Photo by Carter Grotta

It’s hard to say what work has been most appreciated — with over 150 works by 62 artists, there is a lot to experience. People have commented on Neha Puri Dhir’s shibori. We’ll be open until 5 pm on Sunday May 5th — so you still have time to see it for yourself. Our hours are 10 am to 5 pm every day — call if you want to come earlier or later in the day. 203.834.0623. Learn more about browngrotta arts at: http://www.browngrotta.com.


art + identity: Who’s New? Neha Puri Dhir and Nnenna Okore

Zazen, Neha Puri Dhir, resist dye, silk,, 41” x 41”, 2015. Photo by Tom Grotta.

We are excited to be including four artists new to browngrotta arts in art + identity: an international view. They include Neha Puri Dhir of India and Nnenna Okore who grew up and studied in Nigeria and now lives in the US.


Neha Puri Dhir‘s textile study has also been broad-based, including time at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, studies in Italy, Latvia, the UK and a workshop with Americans Yoshiko Wada and Jack Larsen. Dhir has intentionally explored a variety of textile techniques, developing a particular appreciation for shibori and stitch resist. “More than the means,” she told Hand/Eye magazine, “It is the story that fascinates me. It is enchanting to know the origin of these age-old Japanese techniques. Unconsciously, and interestingly, similar resist-dyeing techniques were taking birth in various corners of the world — bandhini in India and adire from Nigeria. These traditional crafts were changing hands from one generation to another and unknowingly developing a pedagogy.”

A closer look at Dhir’s Zazen

Dhir has experimented with this meticulous and labor-intensive technique, sourcing her fabrics from various parts of India and using machine stitch instead of hand to achieve something not otherwise possible. Dhir’s design philosophy has been influenced by the Japanese aesthetic wabi-sari, centred on the acceptance of impermanence and imperfection. 

Ashioke, Nnenna Okore, burlap, ceramic, 28” x 35” x 4”, 2007


Born in Australia and raised in Nigeria, Nnenna Okore has received international acclaim for her richly textured abstract sculptures and installations. Her breathtaking works explore the fragility and ephemerality of terrestrial existence. Her highly tactile sculptures respond to the rhythms and contours of everyday life, combining reductive methods of shredding, fraying, twisting and teasing with constructive processes of tying, weaving, stitching and dyeing. Also, informing her aesthetics are familiar sounds of sweeping, chopping, talking and washing, processes that reflect the transience of human labor and its inevitable mark on the material world.

“…My processes of fraying, tearing, teasing, weaving, dyeing, waxing, accumulating and sewing allow me to interweave and synthesize the distinct properties of materials,…[M]uch like impermanent earthly attributes, my organic and twisted structures mimic the dazzling intricacies of fabric, trees, barks, topography and architecture. All my processes are adapted or inspired by traditional women’s practice, the African environment, third-world economies and recycled waste.”

Details in Okore’s Ashioke


Okore is a Professor of Art at Chicago’s North Park University, where she chairs the Art department and teaches courses in Art Theory and Sculptural Practices. She earned her B.A degree in Painting from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (First Class Honors) in 1999, and subsequently received her MA and MFA at the University of Iowa, in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Okore spent a year as an apprentice in El Anatsui’s studio in Nigeria.

The opening of art + identity: an international view is at browngrotta arts, 276 Ridgefield Road, Wilton, CT 06897, Saturday, April 27th from 1 pm to 6 pm. Sunday the 28th through Sunday May 5th, the exhibition hours are 10 am to 5 pm. For the complete list of the more than 50 artists who are participating, visit our calendar page HERE.


Sneak Peek: Save the Date: art + identity opens April 27th

Mary Merkel-Hess, Last Light paper, paper cord 14” x 31” x 15”, 2018

This year’s annual Art in the Barn exhibition at browngrotta arts, art + identity: an international view, opens on April 27th with an Artists Reception and Opening from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at 276 Ridgefield Road, Wilton, CT. From April 28th through May 5th, you can view the exhibition from 10 to 5.

In art + identity, more than 50 artists explore the influence that birthplace, residence, travel and study have had on the development of their art. The work reflects the influence of five continents and includes art textiles, sculpture and ceramics and mixed media. The artists have lived and worked in 22 countries including Japan, Finland, Nigeria, India, Russia, Israel, Canada, Chile and the US. These artists’ approaches to the theme are decidedly individual but similarities and differences among their works create an intriguing dialogue about the influence of culture and geography and spur questions about the universality of art.

Gudrun Pagter, Framed linen, sisal, and flax 64.75” x 59.75”, 2018

Among the artists participating is Gudrun Pagter of Denmark, whose work reflects a serene and abstract Scandinavian sensibility. American Mary Merkel-Hess is inspired by the prairie of her native Midwest. Her work, Last Light, was inspired by a line from Willa Cather, “the whole prairie was like the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed.”  Stéphanie Jacques from Belgium looked inward to explore identity, creating a structure of cubes and parallelepipeds made of willow. “I dance in my studio,” she says, “searching through my movement for a relationship with this form.  I set up the camera and take photos.  My face is veiled. The frame is fixed.  As the shooting advances, a story appears….A series of portraits follows….Each image incarnates a new state, another state.” American artist Norma Minkowitz’ work, The Path, also speaks to the personal and the universal — “the path we each take regardless of who we are or where we began.” 

Stéphanie Jacques, Avec ce que j’ai III, thread, willow, gesso, cotton prints, glue, forex., 41” x 70” x 18” 2016-17

For other artists, that sense of place is broader, transcending boundaries and reflecting effects of increased exchange among artists. “This exhibition of works transcends international borders, ” notes Dawn MacNutt of Canada, whose work in art + identity was inspired by ancient Greek sculpture viewed at the Metropolitan in New York and then in Greece. “My association with some of these artists goes back to the Lausanne Biennale in 1985 and the American Craft Museum’s Fiber: Five Decades in 1995. browngrotta arts provides an ongoing museum/gallery/melting pot of the work of international artists in textile materials and techniques. It also fosters the meeting together of the artists themselves…a rare opportunity and the icing on the cake!”

art + identity: an international view, April 27th-May 5th. browngrotta arts, 276 Ridgefield Road, Wilton, CT 06897. 203.834.0623. For more info, visit: www.browngrotta.com.