Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Artist of the Week: Maria Jose Duran Steinman

Chimera, 2009, mixed media, dimensions variable

Maria Jose Duran Steinman is a Chilean artist I met while we were mastering the fine arts at SVA. I still remember meeting her that first day of Orientation. She introduced herself as “Cote” to the nervous lot, her bright blue eyes wide and excited, with a long brown braid that hung down her back, stopping just above her waist. While we were in school together, Cote would build these lovely, dreamy little spaces in her studio. Pastel colored trash bags for the walls, twinkle lights strung all around, reams and reams of colored paper for the roof, all covered in loose, rambling drawings, with soft pillows and bubble-wrapped cushions to keep you comfy while you sat criss-cross-applesauce on the ground inside. They were like the forts you used to build when you were a kid, only waaay better—and! they would stay up for a few weeks at least, waaay longer than mom ever would have allowed.

These cozy caves created an immediate sense of intimacy once you crawled inside. It was warm and dim and it made you feel like this was a place where you could share secrets. This sense of wonder is something I have always admired about her work. Cote also has a real sensitivity to her materials; all of her sculptures and installations are very tactile. Her most recent series of soft sculptures that she calls "Arrows and Canes" were made from pieces of clothing and thread, all tightly wound like ropes, roots, or broken limbs that she would lean or tack on a wall for that one point of support, letting gravity do the rest. They were wonderfully organic, and yet, so controlled.

Arrow I, 2010, blanket and yarn, 17"x 15"x 5" 

Brides, 2010, fabric, wool, copper wire, 58"x 5"x 3" ; 44"x 4"x 2"

Hanged I, 2010, plastic, wool, copper wire, dimensions variable

Hanged III, 2010, clothes, yarn, 23"x 10"x 9"

Hanged III Detail

Even when she is knitting beautiful scarves for her friends, her fingers are always making, making, never at rest.

Now she’s making drawings that are almost childlike in their execution, as if she has grabbed the marker with her whole fist and dragged it over the paper. They seem as if she started with a line and let it take her where it wanted to go. And yet the drawings are very purposeful, very direct. While they aren’t exactly representational, I keep trying to decipher them. Is that a brain? A bone? Those are definitely fingers! Right? They are sometimes grotesque, and always playful. There has always been something very visceral about her work that I have connected with, and I am really enjoying this new turn of events. You go, girl!

Awkward, 2011, card stock, color marker, 8 1/2"x 11"

Lemons, 2011, card stock, color marker, 8 1/2"x 11"

Cote has her first solo exhibition opening September 2nd on Governor's Island. If you're in the NY area, take the ferry over and check it out! (Her installation, which is titled "Under the Table", will be in Building D, second floor, room 6. It will be open every weekend from 11am-6pm until September 25th.)

More images and some of her very cool videos can be found on her website:

- Cathleen 

[All photos courtesy of the artist’s website.]

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