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Editorial: Reviews
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Abbey Messmer and Ann Morton
Eye Lounge, Phoenix, Arizona
Review by Deborah Ross

Ann Morton, "Josef" (detail), 2014, pieced textile portrait. Photo by Bill Timmerman

Continuing through October 3, 2014

Sharing space at this small, artist-run space are two Phoenix artists with loyal followings, one a painter known for her figurative work and the other a social-practice adherent taking textile art to new heights. Their work for this show takes two divergent yet wholly satisfying paths: primal images of figures in water by Abbey Messmer, and quilted portraits of the homeless by Ann Morton.

Messmer’s work often takes its cue from unfamiliar organisms and bodies of water, with many of her best  figurative pieces presenting naturalistic scenes and enigmatic images of humans in or near pools and oceans. Her fascination with underwater photography has inspired many of her oils, and the six works here explore the human connection to water in sinuous, distorted and dreamlike images. A prime example is “Bathys,” in which a nude female submerged in a pool puts one knee to the ground and lets her arms drift, in almost a genuflection to the force that water is. In “Fluid State,” the gradation of color from turquoise to teal to black as a less-distinct nude floats in water, her hair splayed, plays to our fear of water’s dark, mysterious power.

The way light mingles with water is also of interest to Messmer, as in “Occultation,” where a square of light on the right-hand side of the painting throws a beacon on the disruption of water’s inherent tranquility as swimmers symbiotically move through it. One painting’s title, “Bilateria,” refers to a creature of Messmer’s invention that looks strangely like a pair of conjoined figures scavenging the ocean floor.

There is no need for invention and mystery in Morton’s work, which is rooted in the real world issue of homelessness. A few years ago, she helped create a program called Street Gems, which consists of a small cadre of homeless individuals who help Morton make flowers and jewelry from discarded plastic that are good enough for sale to the public. She recently garnered national attention for “Ground Cover,” a temporary piece that covered a vacant lot in downtown Phoenix with multi-colored blankets knitted and quilted by dozens of contributors, with the blankets eventually reaching the homeless.

Here, Morton exhibits two ceiling-high portraits of Street Gems “team members” on opposing walls, the portraits amazingly pieced together from hundreds of one-inch squares of fabric scraps into a pixel-like mosaic. Morton calls the process “arduous but meditative,” resulting in something grand that is rooted in intimate scale. The images of “Josef,” with his black eyeglass frames and fedora, and “Michelle,” who shares space in supported housing with him, belie nothing of homelessness and hardships until we read the narratives next to the works. Altogether, the portraits and stories eschew stereotypes that enhance their effectiveness as vehicles for advocacy.

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