“Full Circle: New Works by Jason Pollen,” MLB Designs

There are over 100 textiles in “Full Circle: New Works by Jason Pollen,” an exhibit 18 months in the making. The 75-year-old artist, who was chair of the Kansas City Art Institute fiber department from 1997-2010, has never been more prolific and his art has never looked better. “Full Circle” is not just visually splendid; the exhibit is akin to a cosmic dance and it feels like balm for the spirit.

Pollen is known internationally for his masterful interplay of textiles, patterns, dyes, and the “stuffness” of his materials. Here he mixes silks, different kinds of canvas, thread, wire, and twigs. He also experiments with ceramics for the first time, and his use of various pigments is a reminder that he started his career as a painter.

“Full Circle” is largely abstract but it is also autobiographical. The show’s title refers both to Pollen’s repeated use of the circle as a motif in many of his artworks, as well as to his return to types of art he made early in his career, when he switched from painting to fiber. One of the most compelling bodies of work in the show is the series “Ancestors,” in which dozens of tiny twigs are wrapped and stitched onto 3 different canvases.  In a recent interview with curator Milica Acamovic, Pollen explains, “Born of necessity in Paris in 1966, when I could no longer afford paint, I turned to my surroundings and began stitching twigs to raw canvas. . .manipulating materials has remained my constant since kindergarten.”

Pollen says his newest works, “Descendants,” which consist of more than 20 delicate, sprightly mobiles constructed from a seemingly random stockpile of materials, “are the most playful and joyful group of this exhibition. The offspring of my previous work ‘Ancestors,’ they are yet another expansion of my work with twigs and have come into the third-dimension, utilizing shadows and movement.”

Pollen is best known for abstraction, but he is also a portraitist. In “Full Circle” he continues his remarkable series “Prophets,” begun five years ago, consisting of small portrait heads, all of them full frontal and looking directly at the viewer. Their faces span the centuries, and appear to represent everything from Grecian busts to family friends. As always, Pollen mixes media, combining graphite with various pigments and fiber to rich effect.

Across from “Prophets” are 32 fiber works from the “Tango” series.  Pollen once lived in Argentina, and he teaches and dances the tango. His affection for this sensuous form of choreography is apparent in each piece from this vibrant grouping, as various slivers of silk and layered geometric shapes appear to connect and literally dance across the brightly colored surfaces.

Circles of all types — some thin, some thick, some concentric — abound in this exhibit. Pollen writes that “Whatever their diameters, circles always feel full and complete, yet expectant.  A circle embodies perfection while it also promises new possibilities and openings to fill.”

Many of the circles from his “Ventanas” series are sewn, collaged and/or painted on rectangular surfaces which in turn are attached to larger fiber rectangles which may also contain circles. Both small and large rectangles are densely decorated with marks and materials of limitless diversity.  Pollen is familiar with Tibetan Buddhism, and these works may refer to Tibetan tangkas (paintings attached to fabric backgrounds) and mandalas, which are known for their opulent, brilliantly colored designs.

Strung up high in the gallery’s corridor spaces are Pollen’s version of Buddhist prayer flags. Petite and riotous with pattern and color, they are open to the wind, as are the actual prayer flags that hang throughout the Himalayas.  One senses that Pollen’s art is his own form of communication with the universe, and the response has to be as joyous as the offerings.

(Forty percent of proceeds from the exhibit will benefit the Jason Pollen Fund for Kansas City Art Institute student scholarships).

“Full Circle: New Works by Jason Pollen” continues through Feb. 3 at MLB Designs & Boutique, 2020 Baltimore Ave. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816.531.3133 or mlbdesigns.com.

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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