Historically it has been seen that as new materials with propensity for creative use have come to prominence, many designs, motifs and even techniques are transferred from existing, traditional mediums and crafts, creating an intriguing continuity of culture, as well as a furthered examination of arts’ objecthood and its significance. Samantha Bittman’s new series of works in Material Data now on view at Johansson Projects continue to gamble with this continuing trace among visual rhetoric, and how they reveal novel and familiar styles. With an innovative blending of handwoven textile work with pixelated imagery and abstract geometric painting, Bittman’s works draws parallels between formal and conceptual intent across media and eras, which is equally, as the artist has said of her work, “an exploration of the relationship between image, structure, pattern, and perception.”
Indeed, Bittman’s intriguing assortment of material and the juxtapositions of geometric patterns implemented prompt reflection upon the larger ideas of formal strategies and processes of interdisciplinary artmaking while subverting those relationships between image and object. Bittman’s careful design implementation give depth and vibrancy to many of the works — certainly seen in both Untitled (corner circle), with its blocks of concentric black and white designs, belied with a really spectacular corner that introduces red, blue and yellow square pattern; and the playful lines and allusion of depth in the blue and white alternating lines of Untitled (blue 2). These basic patterns, both woven and painted, of which these two pieces are examples recall designs from both early modern geo-abstractions, 1960s Op-Art, and contemporary Photoshop pixelations and traditional textile patterns like the houndstooth, symbolic polygons, to the natural tessellations of warp and weft, literally and figuratively intertwine material, medium, and meaning. In this way, Material Data also potentially draws attention to the wide origin and use of such patterning, to which the title of the exhibition and particularly the use of the word, Data seems to allude. BIttman’s artful geometric patterning evoke its origins in both the advent of some form of technological age or advancement, and conversely the deeply traditional textile crafts like quilting, knitting, and weaving.
Patterns painted and patterns woven just as readily conflate into one another as they do concurrently emulate and inspire each other in Bittman’s work, which completely obfuscates the artist’s chronology of creation, and thus relational roles. In an Untitled painting, orange and white pigments are used to explore the wide gamut of weaving patterns, real and imagined, within the woven ground of one work. While in some places it looks as if Bittman is following the weaving patterns, in others it is perfectly evident she is defying it, creating completely upon her own volition and vision. The ground weave patterns might sometimes be precisely replicated in its painted surface, exacerbating the material of the textile and flattening the picture plane. In other instances Bittman will selectively paint areas intentionally opposite their underlying textile support, perceptually disorienting the intent and thus the viewing and reading of the work. Further distortion occurring while stretching the material onto the bars, a serendipitous natural effect, seen in works like Untitled (yellow) where the matte yellow cruciform is appearing ready to burst from the bars while the black and white zig zag pattern slinks under the exuberance of the pattern, only serve to draw attention upon this precarious relationship that the artist so skillfully keeps balanced.
Samantha Bittman, “Material Data” will be at Johansson Projects, 2300 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland through July 4, 2015