The curatorial intent of this exhibition is to prove that an intelligent sense of beauty in contemporary art needn’t preclude an emotional response to a work’s decorative qualities.
Consisting of a dialog between two artists who harness the initial attraction of ornament into something more lasting, The Beauty Process is an inquiry into the way in which this stance at once hinders and enhances the production of art that has meaning to contemporary viewers. The works of Nancy Lorenz and Jeffry Mitchell possess an initial seductive impact which gives way, over time, to a sophisticated, almost timeless form of aesthetic appreciation and demonstrates that true, lasting beauty penetrates deeper than the surface.
Nancy Lorenz uses traditional Asian art-making techniques in her work, such as gilding and inlay. The time-consuming methods result in lustrous, contemplative paintings, where the meditative mood echoes the slowness of their creation. For The Beauty Process, Lorenz has created a small-scale screen, consisting of 12 interlocking panels which are decorated on both sides. On one side, a dragon is depicted in watercolor over gold leaf; on the other abstract shapes which recall a rock garden arrangement float on a field of etched lines referencing the geometry of raked stones. The miniature screen, over 6 feet wide but just over 2 feet tall, brings to mind the form of a ‘tea screen’, used in the late Victorian era. These objects (used to protect table-top burners from being extinguished by a breeze) were often transformed from the merely practical through elegant decoration, becoming a focal point for an aesthetic experience, a very apt metaphor for Lorenz’ work.
Jeffry Mitchell will exhibit two ceramic vessels that echo Lorenz’ reference to tea. In the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, participants pass a cup of tea to each other, pausing from time to time to appreciate the beauty of the cup itself. Mitchell’s vessels, while much larger (and, because they are pierced in many places, not functional), provoke a similar response in the viewer. Inscribed lines depict floral forms in a loopy, charming manner, while a rich, glossy glaze invites prolonged contemplation. Mitchell will also exhibit a ‘Pressed Snow Flake Sculpture’, done with cut paper pressed between two pieces of glass in a frame. Mimicking the manner in which dried flowers are often displayed, Mitchell here tries to convey the fleeting joy of seeing a snowflake. At once childlike and humorous, the collage/cutting blends ideas of craft, design and beauty without irony.
Lorenz and Mitchell, close friends from the Tyler School of Art, have pursued their own vision over the course of their successful careers. Entirely cognizant of contemporary art, the two have advocated for the importance of beauty in a manner that may seem atavistic. The Beauty Process is an experiment to see how an environment where aesthetics is put above all other concerns is perceived in the heart of the Chelsea art world.