Articles and Reviews

Sculpture magazine, April 2017

N Y
Barbara King
Narthex Gallery, St. Peter’s Church
Barbara King’s recent exhibition, “Ribbon Meditations,” was shown in the narthex of St. Peter’s Church in Midtown Manhattan. For over 50 years, the church, which is committed to creatively shaping the life of the city and its community, has served immigrants, the homeless— people of every race, ethnicity, and language, at every economic level, and at every point of the gender spectrum. The arts play a vital part in living out this mission. The church commissions and installs permanent and temporary art, using it to spark public conversation and dialogue.
An intersection of American culture, politics, and spirituality, “Ribbon Meditations” fit squarely within the mission of the church, and it felt particularly appropriate during the contentious 2016 election cycle. The original idea for the works came from the yellow, ribbon-shaped magnets that appeared on the back fenders of cars in support of U.S. troops during the Iraq invasion. Soon the symbolic ribbon shape was adopted for other causes and in different colors, and the magnets became as ubiquitous as license plates.
Issues of war and peace have always been central to King’s work. She began experimenting with medallion and ribbon shapes in paintings and mixed-media pieces. She defined the ribbons first with pencil and then filled them in with a thick application of white acrylic paint to allow viewers to imagine their own color or cause. The paint was then over- laid with white paste-like glitter, which gives the ribbons a distinct sculptural appearance with shifting light and shadows and intertwining positive and negative spaces.
A number of these early Medallion Ribbon Paintings appeared at St. Peter’s. These sculptural paintings
then led King to cut looping ribbon shapes repeatedly into large rolls of white printmaking paper to form lacy screens and spiral-shaped hangings. While the ribbons commemorate death, the spiral shapes echo the breath of life up and down the human spine.
One spiral wall piece, The Ribbon Spiral, was suspended over the stairwell leading down to the sanctuary. The view as you descended mimicked the view of the ribbon magnets attached to a car driving in front of you, though King’s magnified and now stationary ribbon had become an imposing, almost surrounding presence.
A visual breakthrough occurred when King conceived of gathering the cut-out, leftover pieces and sewing them together into delicate, patterned, hanging paper sculptures that respond to air movements. She spent hours tracing and cutting the ribbon shapes. She then marked the paper where they would belong if they were put back in place and threaded together the leftover bits. Depending on the light, one could see the shape of the ribbons in the shadows, evoking life and death simultaneously.
A gigantic hanging paper sculpture, The Spinal Cutouts, both embraced and confronted viewers entering the narthex. The breeze created by the opening of the door made visitors active participants in the creation of this floating veil of shape and shadow, a veil simultaneously shrouding and revealing the infinite in a powerful visualization of “what remains” of those we remember and love.
—Renata Karlin
Sculpture April 2017 77
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