East combines with West in Erin Curtis’ paintings and sculptures


Have you heard the word “gingham” suddenly popping up in regular conversation?

When plaid came back in style recently, the Internet was along for the ride and made it easy to answer burning questions like, “Which pattern is this?”

So, these days, instead of “checks” we have “gingham.”

If this interest in textiles is new to most of us, for Austin artist Erin Curtis it’s long been part of her painting. Time in India on a Fulbright fellowship had an effect on her.

“Some people are wearing clothes that are definitely similar to what their family was wearing hundreds of years ago,” she says of the experience.

Curtis is standing inside her new solo exhibit, “Further West,” at the Contemporary Austin’s gatehouse gallery at Laguna Gloria.

A few paintings in all colors hang from the wall in frames, but others drape from the ceiling, like curtains or flags. The room is full of a flourish of patterns. Curtis has even painted one work of bright lines and symbols on the floor. You couldn’t buy these patterns off the rack, but there are fleeting moments where you can imagine the inspiration behind a certain shape or line, before it’s engulfed by a different layer of paint.

Outside, as you walk under the gatehouse’s pergola, you pass geometric sculptures wrapped in multicolored tile. One’s a distorted pyramid; another resembles a mini-skyscraper. “They’re like little greeters,” Curtis says.

These sculptures are part of a city of Austin arts commission, and the tiles come from the storied Central Texas brick makers, Elgin Butler. Like Curtis’ paintings, these works in tile have myriad colors, but surprisingly all of them are stock, straight from the catalogue.

Curtis simply has a gift for pairing the colors. She’s cut them to make triangle shapes similar to the shapes that adorn her paintings. “I hope they’re kind of fun,” she says.

Some of the sculptures from the series have also begun to appear on Third Street downtown. Eventually there will be 25 across eight blocks.

Curtis’ work plays with the differences between design and art. It’s about “blurring those lines,” she says.

Aside from the stylish diamond shapes that layer the floor, there is a series of charpoys — Indian-style benches — strung with parachute cord. There are also canvases that Curtis transformed from dropcloths into completely new paintings.

Once you get past the incredible range of colors, you notice that the paintings aren’t stretched tight to fit evenly into frames. Curtis was looking for different ways that painting can operate, she says, “pulling things off of the stretcher and off the wall.”

The centerpiece is a room-sized canvas, hung from the ceiling, that divides the room in two. It’s really two works — one on each side — and the swaths of color are interrupted by a grid of chevrons punched through the canvas. As you move, the light shines through the other side, moving along with you.

“I’m interested with seeing two things at once,” Curtis says.

Another work, “Draped House,” is both a strange vision of a large house draped in cloth and a layer of patterned banners that partially obscure the whole view.

Curtis wants us to see double — “and not just in a literal way,” she says. “But in the broader way you move through life and understand things.”



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