“Jason Pollen: Inside Out,” Leedy Voulkos Art Center

Wall of Shields no. 1-14

Jason Pollen’s exhibit, “Inside/Out,” makes it clear once again that the renowned artist and Professor Emeritus of the Kansas City Art Institute’s fiber department is the master of materials, and at 82 remains one of the most prolific artists in the city. A multiplicity of geometric patterns, created from textiles, paper, paint, dyes, and thread are collaged or sewn onto canvas, paper and wood; they ricochet from piece to piece in a celebratory, and occasionally mobile, dance. And while it may feel like a party, Pollen is actually taking the viewer on a voyage.

There are more than ten sections in the exhibition, with names such as “Shields, “Totems, “Jazz Suites,” “Nomads,” “Witnesses,” “Refuge” and “Community.” Such categories suggest that much of “Inside/Out” is autobiographical for Pollen, as he has traveled, taught and lived on several continents, absorbing everything from ancient ruins to contemporary dance traditions. Pollen is also a practicing Buddhist, and hints of the beautiful, rich and baroque wall hangings of that culture seem to have worked their way into his oeuvre. Pollen’s art, with its exquisite blend of color, craft and materials makes the ideal setting for what is one of Buddhism’s main goals: to place oneself in a setting that is peaceful and lovely, and therefore conducive to meditation.

Shield no. 7

Pollen writes that his “Nomads,” which are double-sided and situated on metal stands, were “inspired by my journey to see the ancient stone stelae land markers in the Yorkshire moors . . . (they are) eager to accompany us on our uniquely personal journeys.”

His “Shields” series was completed after “Nomads.” As striking as they are, it’s not such a stretch to think these works could be used as traditional protective items. Well versed in the art of other cultures, Pollen knows that many shields, despite their use in weaponry, are carefully carved and/or painted, in the manner of fetish figures. He says that “Although my Shields might not protect their owners from danger, risk, or unpleasant experiences, my wish it that they might do so.”

Pollen’s “Witness” figures can also be traced to Buddhism, with their basic message of cultivating awareness. He writes: To be a witness is to be present, alert, and open to what is actually occurring internally and externally . . . They stand in for all of us as we perceive the coming and going of all that impacts us physically, psychologically and spiritually.”

“Shelters” Installation Wall

Another delicious series is “Shelters,” a stunning wall installation of approximately 100 small house-shaped cloth works, all amazingly different, that attach to the wall via magnets. They are ridiculously inexpensive, and viewers may buy and take home as many as they want; Pollen will replace them with others as the show continues.

There is also an unnamed group of Pollen’s well-known organza, dye and fluid acrylic wall works. They are highly ephemeral, delicate and mysterious with names like “Round and Round,” “Big Bounce” and “Cosmic Dance.” I can picture one of these in the Dalai Llama’s library.

“Jason Pollen: Inside/Out” continues at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Ave., through Jan. 27. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. For more information, 816. 474.1919 or www.leedy-voulkos.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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