When I hear the word crochet, I envision the vintage cloths known as antimacassars that used to reside on the backs of chairs to protect their fabric from being stained by men’s hair oil. Thankfully, Gerry Trilling has provided us all with a new visual repertoire to replace those outdated images in “Memory Ponds,” her new exhibition of approximately 160 works, each titled with a number, at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art.
Many of Trilling’s works feature concentric circles of vibrant colors, often with contrasting textures provided by the yarn selection. The sizes range from that of small butter plates to large serving platters. One might be reminded of the target paintings of Alma Thomas, Kenneth Noland or Jasper Johns. A standout piece (“#162”) is reminiscent of Wassily Kandinsky’s handling of the circle motif. At its center is a small, black disconnected circle; smaller circles and other shapes are randomly yet artfully positioned throughout. The tightly formatted, white background effectively sublimates one’s perception of crochet. The work’s silhouette is neither round nor square and more biomorphic than geometric. This piece along with numbers 163 – 166 are the most recent works in the exhibition and demonstrate a stylistic break with Trilling’s earlier efforts. The later works, as well as the monumental “Memory Pond” succeed in transcending what might be considered the traditional boundaries of crochet.
“Memory Pond,” the largest work at nearly 16 feet in diameter, took nearly three years to complete. The smaller spirals, as the artist refers to the not-always-regularly shaped circles, act as drawings or studies where she can explore her novel approaches to crocheting. By only knowing the very basics of crochet, Trilling set out to break the rules, the rules she admitted to not knowing.
Trilling, a Kansas City Art Institute graduate, grew up in St. Louis; her family immigrated to the Midwest to escape the Holocaust. Textiles definitely played a role in her childhood — her father manufactured clothing — but she also has vivid memories of her female relatives knitting, embroidering, making things. Her introduction to crochet occurred as she was moving her studio when her packed up supplies were not accessible. A friend gave her a lesson and provided her with some yarn. Months passed, COVID-19 entered our lives and suddenly the notion of creating art at home seemed downright prescient. And as Trilling crocheted, she thought a lot about the women before her who would make things for family and friends and the genesis of “women’s work.”
Word of mouth as well as an occasional workshop inspired friends and others to donate their leftover yarn to Trilling. (The materials for all the work in “Memory Ponds” were given to the artist.) The variety was endless, from pricey imported variegated wool to washable pastel acrylic favored for baby blankets. But in a sense the donations were not “free,” as they came encumbered with the weight of their own stories. Trilling heard about the grandmother-made skirt rejected by its intended wearer, the muffler that was unraveled due to its itchiness. No matter the shortcoming that prevented an item from being used as intended, the memories endured. One man insisted on enveloping his face in an artwork, declaring that the smell of his grandmother’s yarn never failed to conjure up her presence. Bits of some of these stories have been included as wall texts.
Trilling said that she likes to concentrate on the story. “I’m a very nosy person.” She has experienced the intense desire of others to share history in some of her previous projects. Two of her past exhibitions, one which focused on upholstery fabric, the other, high heels, inspired the public to regale her with memories of old sofas and shoes. This, in turn, motivated her to include a guest book at “Memory Ponds” asking for contributions of stories. Recollections of a boyfriend who knitted and a grandmother who made doilies in-between customers at her grocery store are among the current entries. Trilling explains,” All stories are true to the teller; listen and you will find common ground and be surprised by their generosity.”
In addition to her current show in St. Joseph, Trilling has just opened another exhibition, “What If…” at Studios INC. in Kansas City. In this body of work, the artist used the Excel program to create pattern-based cartoons for future paintings. These cartoons have been re-invented as digital prints; several paintings are on view as well. While the works in “What if…” and in “Memory Ponds” are strikingly different,” Trilling explains that they do share some commonality: both are “patterned, their structures are apparent and both come out of readily available material construction culture. I would hope they both challenge a viewer to try to figure out how and why they came to be and, in the process, to spend time really looking and wondering. For me it’s always about the narrative.”
“Memory Ponds by Gerry Trilling” continues through Nov. 8 at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, 2818 Frederick Avenue, Saint Joseph. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, 816.233.7003 or www.albrecht-kemper.org.
Photos by E.G. Schempf