Beeswax, Threads, and the Intimacy of Things

May 1, 2018

(L) C. B. Forsythe. Round and Round, 2013. Ink, paint, found fibers on linen. (R) Juvana Soliven. Your High Pedestal, 2016. Beeswax, steel, fur. Forsythe and Soliven are featured in an exhibition titled, “Intimate Orbits,” through June 15, 2018 at the Honolulu Museum of Art, First Hawaiian Center downtown.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Juvana Soliven’s beeswax sculptures could make you feel a little weak in the knees.  She plays with things that are solid and stiff and other things that are droopy and soft. C.B. Forsythe’s intricate threadwork combines familiar detritus from the past with contemporary intention. HPR’s Noe Tanigawa offers this look inside their work, which is on view now at First Hawaiian Bank Center downtown.

Works by Juvana Soliven and C.B. Forsythe continue on view at the First Hawaiian Bank Center on Bishop Street, through June 15th, 2018.  Find images and links at: Honolulu Museum of ArtJuvana Soliven, and Cambridge Art Association.

C. B. Forsythe. Round and Round, 2013. Ink, paint, found fibers on linen.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Charlotte Baxter Forsythe has gone by C.B. Forsythe in her professional life for a reason.  When she first began entering art shows, she heard that the first question jurors asked was whether a piece was done by a man or a woman.  Forsythe stumped them by going with initials.

Forsythe’s materials, though, fabric, needlework, threads, buttons, ribbon, and the like, these are materials Forsythe says most people assume a woman uses because she’s influenced by her grandmother.  Which Forsythe was.

Forsythe:  I was influenced by my grandmother.  Both my grandmothers.  One grandmother taught me how to sew, on one of those old treadle machines.  That was perfect for a child because they wouldn’t go so fast.  And my other grandmother taught me how to knit.  That tradition passes on generation to generation, so I passed that on to my granddaughter.  Working with your hands.

(L) C. B. Forsythe. In Circles, 2015. Ink, paint, found fibers on linen.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Forsythe uses vintage fabrics, some previously embroidered by generations before.

Forsythe:  I use threads like paint. I use thickness and thinness.  What’s interesting about threads, though, found objects, is that you can rip apart, take things apart and then put it back together again and you leave a remnant of what was there before.  So when you look at a surface, you’re not quite sure all the different layers, why.

Forsythe:  A lot of the actual linen base is stencilled, some has been embroidered by women of previous generations.  You have to look really closely to see what has been left over, an unfinished project from a prior generation. 

Forsythe:  So I’m interested in that kind of layering of the actual layering of materials but the layering of intent too, I guess.

C. B. Forsythe. Void Fill, 2013. Ink, paint, found fibers on linen.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Forsythe used old, mended, canvas bank and mail bags for one series, others are on vintage linen, linen from the ‘40’s, she says is exquisite.  Forsythe’s wall pieces look like muted abstractions until, up close, a dab of fluff, a nightgown’s ribbon, a frazzled string, a faded name tag, amid circles of stitches. 

Forsythe:  Most of the fiber I work on is vintage.  Linen from the ‘40’s is exquisite.  In the other part of the exhibit I used a lot of found canvas bags, like mail bags, bank bags, and I take those apart and reassemble them.  A lot of them have been mended some have been mended by postal employees or whatever, and I mend them too so it’s that same kind of like blending of who did what.

Forsyth knows the flea market scene, like the venerable Brimfield Flea Market in western Massachusetts.  She used to sell vintage clothing at antique fairs on the continent, and became familiar with period notions like buttons, ribbons, clasps, handkerchiefs, gloves, etc. 

Forsythe:  The other part that interests me is, why are these things saved?  They’re saved for generations, these tins and boxes of linens, and half-finished projects.  Mostly they’re not valued.  Somebody cleans out an estate, and these are boxes in the basement or the attic.  They sell them for a couple dollars. 

C. B. Forsythe. Bumps A, 2011. Ink, paint, found fibers on linen.

Forsythe:  I treasure them.  I go through them and I think of all the women who wanted to keep their hands busy and their creativity.  It’s like the tradition of quilt making, but a little different, I think.  Quilt making was more communal, whereas embroidery was more solitary before there was TV.  Perhaps in front of the radio, they listening to radio programs and embroidering.

What would you say these paintings are about?

Forsythe:  I think they’re about themselves.  What I’m trying to do though, is use all those fibers and found pieces and try to make something new.  I don’t want it just to be about remembrance and nostalgia, I want to create a new kind of fabric.

Also on view now at First Hawaiian Center, sculptures by artist, educator,  Juvana Soliven.

Juvana Soliven. (l) Close Enough, 2017. Toy parts, velvet, pearls. (c) Also Me...,2017. Microsuede, chamois leather, thread. (r) Freud Had a Point. Leather, plastic toy parts, brass, fabric.Credit Noe TanigawaEdit | Remove

Soliven:  I’m really attracted to materials that remind me of skin or flesh.  Those are things that always pull me back.  The idea of touch and smell and the way a material behaves when I work with it, all those things come into play and, I think, feed into the concept behind the work.

Soliven’s sculptures are made of beeswax, melted in folds, and steel, and fur, and found things.

Soliven:  I definitely want to have that feeling of attraction and seduction to the forms and the material.  The material is really soft and comforting but also have this repulsion to the forms they represent.  I think intimacy is that.

Soliven: I think intimacy is trying to navigate the space between wanting and fear, which I think is embedded in most of my work.

Soliven:  I’m really into Freud’s porcupine dilemma.   This idea that if two porcupines are in the freezing 

Juvana Soliven. Your High Pedestal, 2016. Beeswax, steel, fur.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

cold, they want nothing more than to be warm and close to each other, but the closer they get, the more they’re going to poke each other with their quills.  It’s this allusion to human intimacy, and aversion to that intimacy.  I think that’s what we’re trying to do is navigate that space where we’re close enough to feel that warmth but far enough to not get hurt.  What happens in the space between those proximities?

There’s something adorable yet off-putting about the works.

Soliven: It’s kind of that new idea of kawaii?  How Gudetama is something that’s considered kawaii but he’s not traditionally cute?  He’s all of us.  We’re a little bit cute, a little bit icky, pretty jaded and cynical.

Gudetama is the depressed egg yolk character created by Sanrio, the folks who brought you Hello Kitty.

Soliven:  I really enjoy finding baby blankets at Savers.  Plastic toys, mostly rattles or little pacifiers.  I find those $3 bags that have mystery objects in them, and like breaking them open, it’s like Christmas!  Seeing the things I can put together and the conversations they can have.  I also really love working with leather.  Especially supple leather.  It’s so nice.  Just thinking about the skin quality is really important to me.  And velvet is a material I recently fell in love with.

Soliven offers guided walk-throughs of her installations for anyone interested.

Soliven:  I think people should know that they’re allowed to touch everything.  Everything can be touched.  They can’t remove it from the displays, but I totally welcome people to touch it and leave their impression on the works. 

Juvana Soliven. Residue, 2018. Beeswax, steel, fur, velvet.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Soliven:  The idea of touch is really important to me.  I’m not interested in these being specimens that are locked away and only handled with gloves.  I’m interested in the history of touch and our relations with that.  So people can touch everything!  I totally welcome that!

Take a break from your business day. At the Honolulu Museum of Art at First Hawaiian Bank Center on Bishop Street. 

Juvana Soliven. (l) Biological Awareness, 2017. Plastic toy parts, leather, velvet, bronze. (r) Passing Through, 2017. Leather, toy parts, baby blanket, brass.
Credit Noe Tanigawa