Philadelphia artist Heather Riley does not seem to limit herself or the genres that interest her by pursuing strict mediums. Her artwork encompasses work on canvas, panel, paper and wood construction. Last Friday evening, 3rd Street Gallery in Old City, Philadelphia opened Interact, Riley’s foray into a full exhibit of her work with a particular emphasis on her found wood constructions and mixed media.
The multiple combination of materials Riley employs in her construction piece From Above weaves a narrative that the viewer may spend a long time deciphering. A found wooden cigar box complete with brass hinges and a page of text from Herbert Spencer’s Trial and Compromise: The Principles of Ethics is artfully crafted into an assemblage that also features slivers of wood such as those found in a natural outdoor landscape. These slivers are pierced tightly with delicate thread, placed against the harsh blackened darkness of the box’s graphite-filled interior. Is the delicate white thread symbolic of a greater effort to unify the ideals and paper text of Spencer to the natural outside world and this pictorial of wooden yet dark landscape of earth in which we may live? Possibly the two halves of this cigar box construction reflect the dichotomy that makes up a human’s existence: the intellectual realm of thought versus the reality of the natural world.
The artist exhibited several new works on panel that use materials found in craft (such as fiber arts) more often than in strict oil painting. Box Kites is a medium-sized wall piece that manipulates the angular geometry of a flying kite form into parallelograms and triangles of white and green thread. The warm furniture-like brown hues of the oil-painted backdrop seem to mimic clouds with an economy of color that is so masterful – one may think the sky is supposed to be this warm-brown in nature all the time, as opposed to being “light-filled” with sky-blue tonality. Add into this mix the circular dotting of nails holding this threaded composition into place, and one may think he/she is actually looking at an updated Barnett Newman composition or a painterly abstraction reminiscent of the abstract expressionist era.
Heather Riley is one of two artists exhibiting this month along with painter Kristine Flannery at 3rd Street Gallery through December 1st, located at 58 N. 2nd Street in downtown Philadelphia, PA.