Minimalesque: “Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane: Burgeoning” at Kerrytown Concert House


Deborah Campell's Divergent and Topography; Lois Kane's Sathonii

Left and upper right: Deborah Campell's Divergent (fiber) and Topography (1) (fiber, crochet). Lower right: Lois Kane's Sathonii (ink drawing).

There’s minimalist art and there’s art on the edge of being minimal. This distinction may seem paradoxical, but it is one way of describing the Burgeoning exhibit at Kerrytown Concert House by local artists Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane.

Deborah Campbell's art is minimal -- and it's bountiful for it. Where a less talented artist might overpower her work with excess, Campbell strategically stitches her fiber art with just enough effort to convey her articulation. Every stitch counts.

Lois Kane's draftsmanship functions in a similar fashion as Campbell's stitching. Where Campbell’s touch is serene, Kane’s line is vigorous, or memorably spare, and is always on point. 

Burgeoning is then a two-artist display of improvisation and inspiration with no distinct defining visual style -- outside of the fact that Campbell favors cloth and needle as her medium while Kane opts for drawing through multiple guises. But the exhibit hangs well because the works share a kindred zest for originality. Sure, there are resemblances but no single approach dominates the proceedings.

Campbell says in her gallery statement, “I do my best thinking with a needle and thread or a pencil in my hand. You have to slow down. To contemplate. To dig, down, deep. Create Connections.”

Of Campbell’s dozen fiber works on display, her fiber and crochet Topography (1) shows by example this connective “digging” process at work. The work may well have been a formless mass except its knit blue exterior frames earth-tone fiber clusters that are reminiscent of topographical terrain stitched through three-dimensional contour.

Her Divergent Conversations, on the other hand, are seven fiber clusters of differing size and color resembling nodes of fiber convergence to no discernable end. Biomorphically abstract, these “divergent” clusters share a time and place, but they have no connecting thread outside of their placement. Each conversation is as much a complex weave as it is seemingly a separate protuberance of missed dialogue.

Deborah Campbell's If I need you

Deborah Campbell's If I need you (found fabrics, buttons, thread).

If I needed you is easily Campbell’s masterwork in the exhibit. A fabulous confluence of found fabric, buttons, and thread, the two-foot work dominates its Concert House space with its accretion of mixed materials splayed against the wall. Layer upon layer of fabric builds the work while two stitched hands center the composition. If I needed you is an apt metaphor of affection that’s also all supplication floating against the surface of the composition’s depth.

Lois Kane says in her gallery statement that graphic artists “often say the process [of drawing] is a conversation between the paper, the pen, the hand, and to a lesser extent, the brain. Drawings are the act of ‘becoming’ as the conversation evolves. Not only is the physical presence of the drawing an issuing forth, it’s subject matter is ‘burgeoning’ or the act of becoming in nature -- the juncture of chance and particles creating forms, which sooner or later loosen and take part in other configurations or patterns.”

Deborah Campell's Burgeoning and Nod

Lois Kane's Burgeoning (watercolor and pastel drawing) and Nod (charcoal and pastel drawing).

Nod is a good representation of Kane’s 16 drawings in this display. Remarkably active for what is and isn’t there, the portrait is as haunting in absentia as it is for what is actually shows.  It’s a profound study along the lines of her statement above by being a “juncture of chance” through not depicting what is depicted in any portrait -- forehead to chin. There are instead only quickly sketched pastel and charcoal tracings where the portrait ought to be and this creates a rapt internal tension of enigmatic psychological depth.

Sathonii 6 and Burgeoning 1 (both taken from series of watercolor and charcoal drawings on display in the exhibit) show Kane also moving close to automatic drawing. Confluences of surreal line and shading, these works resemble a host of possible images -- from portrait to modeling and back -- being handsomely hermetic with a conceptual inwardness that’s supremely preoccupied with texture and space.

There’s no real way to interpret art like this -- it’s enough to experience it.  For ultimately, Kane’s art is indeed a sort of rapidly increasing mistiness that rests halfway between disclosure and its opaque opposite. Burgeoning is a good way to describe her contribution to this multifaceted exhibition.

John Carlos Cantú has written on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.

“Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane: Burgeoning” runs through June 4 at Kerrytown Concert House, 525 S. State St. The exhibit is available Monday-Friday, 10:30 am-4 pm, during public concerts, and by appointment. For information, call 734-769-2999 or visit