CCAD curator brings two exhibitions of textile work to Beeler Gallery

In some respects, the two exhibitions that open this academic year at CCAD's Beeler Gallery can be traced back five years.

At the time, Ian Ruffino, CCAD's Interim Director of Exhibitions, was featured in the school's galleries for a solo show titled "Sleep." It proved to be a significant transitional moment in Ruffino's career.

"I had been [both] teaching and making for 10 [to] 12 years, and I had made the decision to quit teaching and focus solely on my studio practice," Ruffino said in an interview inside the Beeler Gallery. "The first show I had was here, and I got kind of hooked in and never left."

But the connection is more than temporal. Ruffino said that the same ideas at work in "Sleep" can be found in "Alan Shields: A Different Kind of Painting" and "Stitch," the two related exhibitions of fiber-based art that openon Tuesday, Aug. 22. Ruffino was introduced to the work of the late Alan Shields by critic Bob Nickas, motivated by Nickas' insistence that Ruffino was in pursuit of the same concepts, the same visual language that imbued the New York-based Shield's work.

"[These exhibitions are] the latest iteration of that same idea," Ruffino said. "To me, [the connection is] huge."

Ruffino did more than casually investigate Shields; he steeped himself in the artist's groundbreaking work. Bringing Shields' output to CCAD is a natural expression of Ruffino's interest, so perhaps this exhibition traces back beyond five years.

“Shields' ideas were influenced by architecture. He also studied set design and engineering,” Ruffino said. “He was at the center of a huge cultural shift, looking at the way people live, the spaces where people live and how they were changing and evolving. He wanted his artwork to be adaptable to those spaces, to new kinds of architecture.”

This desire found expression in two central features of Shields' work. First, the notion that art was not made “on” something, i.e. painted on a canvas, but that it was the thing, through and through.

“I really wanted to show this kind of work that is built on an enunciation of the fibers of the fabric in things that appear to be abstract painting,” Ruffino said, “and that enunciation speaks louder than the paint does. It gets back to that idea of a thing to be a solid thing all the way through.”

The second expression is the adaptability of the works. While the majority of the works are of consequential size, because they are made with fabric, most are transportable rolled in tubes or otherwise folded and packaged. Not only are the works made in such a way as to be easily moved and accessed, the pieces are made to be adaptable to the space in which they are shown.

“These things hang from the ceiling. They're on the walls. They're on the floor. They're adaptable to any space,” Ruffino said.

Ruffino noted that one large, hexagonal piece came with instructions that a certain point should be the top of the work, “unless the wall isn't tall enough, then use (this) edge.”

“A New Kind of Painting” also features several works that have never been shown publicly before, including a piece that hangs from the ceiling like a hammock, as well as several carpets. Unlike the carpets, the hammock has never been used as such.

“These carpets had never been shown before. The last time they were visible was in Alan's home, because they were the carpets they used in their family home,” Ruffino said. “When we got them here, we unrolled them on this plastic, and I had some people very carefully use their fingers to work up the pile. When we picked up the carpet to move it, we noticed there was all this dirt, sand and debris from this carpet. This is the sand from their feet that they tracked in from the beach and the boat.”

“Stitch,” the companion exhibition at the Beeler, features work by artists from around the world who share Shields' “affinity for making paintings from textiles,” Ruffino said.

“Things now are so digital, and we spend so much time looking at screens. I'm not a Luddite, I love digital [work], but I love the idea that I can really push this fascination with the solidity of a thing and how it's not surface, it's not slick on top of substrate but it is the substrate,” Ruffino said.

Note: An earlier version of this story included a since-changed (by CCAD) title for the Alan Shields exhibition. This page now reflects the correct title.