Rachel Max’s interest in basketry grew out of experiments with the tactile and the textile properties of metals. The UK artist’s work will be included in browngrotta arts’ upcoming exhibition Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art. A background in metal work that informs her work, while the materials and techniques used in basketry enable her to create a “fabric” with which to shape sculptural forms. The fabric is a delicate grid structure forming an intricate network of lines that are interlinked. Her pieces are often inspired by natural shapes. The unique shapes that result are endlessly engaging — each takes on a different appearance when viewed from varying vantage points.
The weave creates the foundation of all Max’s work. “I have developed a technique of layering to form structures that explore the relationship between lines and shadows and space,” she explains. The relationships between containment and concealment and movement and space are the constant rudiments in her works. “The materials used may vary; however, I have a particular penchant for fine cane, which has a delicacy that is pliable, with wire-like characteristics that suit the open weave compositions that I have been exploring. The contrast of very regular patterns with looser weaves is a recurring theme.” This weave has become her vocabulary, “a way of drawing in space that enables me to explore patterns and form through the interplay of lines, or light and shadow through density and color.”
Music is a large part of Max’s life and an important artistic influence. She has been exploring the ways in which musical terms, structure and composition can be translated into woven form. Both Endless and Tonal Fifths use, as a starting point, the fugue, a musical composition based upon one, two or more themes, which are gradually built up and intricately interwoven into a complex imitative form. “Elements of weaving are comparable to notes in music, a measure of time, a beat or a pulse. Rhythm is everywhere, in the movement of my hands as I weave, in the tension and spaces between each stitch, in the beat of our hearts and in the pace of our footsteps,” says Max.
Color, the final stage in Max’s work, does not appear as an afterthought, but as an integral element. Color is “a necessary ingredient that unifies the process; it is paramount in my work,” she says. Works like Continuum explore the temporal and spatial elements associated with color. The color blue Max describes, for example, as an “ambiguous” color — cold yet often warm and comforting. “It is a color of depth and distance,” in Max’s view, “of darkness and light and of dawn and dusk. It is a color linked closely to the sky and sea, both of which seem infinite and finite. Blue is paradoxically continuous, yet like the sky and sea, has a beginning and an end. Our lives, too, are structured around the continuous cycle of beginning and end. Our perception of color constantly shifts as the light changes. My aim was to translate these seemingly abstract ideas into something concrete. Continuum is a piece about such contrasts and opposites. It is both infinite and finite. A Mobius strip forms the inner core of the piece and the structure gradually shifts, forming a piece with two very different aspects.”
Max was eager to participate in Crowdsourcing. “The way in which we are all currently living is one of the biggest adjustments I have ever had to make and one none of us could ever have imagined,” she wrote. “I would like to make something in response to the situation. At the moment it all feels uncontrollable, weighty and fragile. But the words ‘ together and apart’ keep coming to mind and I remember writing them down back in March. There is a huge sense of solidarity and compassion. We’re looking out for each other, we’re closer than we ever were but we cannot touch, hug or meet up. Our spatial awareness and of sense touch has become heightened as the air between us and the surfaces we touch have become dangerous. I would like to make piece which reflects this.” The result is Balance, which explores notions of infinity and time. “My aim was to distort the form, but still create something that is both finite and infinite. It’s rare that the title of a piece comes to me during the making process but as I was weaving this I became aware of its changing weight and stability, forcing me to rethink how I originally intended it to be seen. It became a subconscious reflection on the world we are in now: Everything seems to be in the balance.”
See Max’s work at Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art (browngrotta arts, May 7 -15, 2021). https://www.eventbrite.com/e/crowdsourcing-the-collective-a-survey-of-textiles-and-mixed-media-art-tickets-292520014237