A 26-foot-tall wall of fabric, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art center’s newest installation is not so much a patch worked tapestry as it is a pendent waterfall, rippling with color and texture.
Artist Todd Knopke’s piece, “Deluge,” accomplishes this overwhelming ambience with its massive size and the method in which he created it—a project he embarked on especially for the Loeb. Todd Knopke’s monumental artwork drapes the walls of the museum and transforms the once empty space into something that demands notice.
“Deluge” appears as a waterfall suspended from the sky. The flowy form of the fabric gives the piece a sense of grace and weightlessness. The bright colors Knopke pieced together, however, give “Deluge” a sense of boldness and power. With its use of royal blues and forest greens, and textures the nature-mimicking textures, the installation brings the outside world inside.
Not only does this piece amaze the viewer as it showcases Knopke’s refined technique of working with fabric, it also inspires awe through its sheer size.
Knopke is very familiar with using fabric as a medium for his art, but making artwork as large as “Deluge” is a fairly new endeavor for him. In an emailed statement, he wrote, “The actual space inspired this work the most scale wise. I have wanted to make very large pieces for a long time. I like the idea of stealing Christo’s piece where he wraps buildings in fabric but having it be a piece/image I make rather than just raw manufactured fabric.”
The creation of “Deluge” proved to be quite laborious because of the constraints that working in an art studio puts on an artist when working in such a massive format.
“I have 9-foot-tall walls in my studio so it was challenging but also exciting to never really get to see the work as it would be when it was hung high,” Knopke said. “I normally cut things up and rearrange often in the creation of a piece and it’s way more difficult with such a large piece to do that so it made me have to stick with my initial intention much more than I normally do.”
Although it took a lot of hard work, the praise that the artwork has received shows that making it so enormous was ultimately worthwhile. Mary Kay Lombino, the Emily Hargroves and Fisher ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator of the Loeb, commented, “The scale of the work takes it to another level. And with the stairs running along one side of the Atrium, viewers are able to see the work from various angles, various heights and from a range of distances. Small artwork can really only be seen from one distance—which is up close. When artwork is this enormous, one can engage with it on so many different levels—literally and figuratively.”
Another innovative aspect of Knopke’s work is that it allows the viewer to interact with it due to the artist’s use of fabric. Because Knopke knew where he planned to present the piece, he incorporated parts of the lighting and space of the Loeb into his art in a way that gives viewers a unique perspective when viewing it. Knopke explained, “[A] beautiful quality of fabric is the way it can glow when light shines through it creating something like supple stained glass. This was the main reason we pulled the water fall piece off the wall, allowing a space for viewers to step behind and seeing the back.”
Knopke’s attention to the translucent quality of fabric certainly didn’t go unnoticed. “Visitors are encouraged to walk behind one side of the installation and look at it from the inside or what is ostensibly the back-side,” Mary Lombino said, “One can see all the exposed stitching on that side and the remnants of the making of the piece—all the intricate work that went into it.”
Moving from nature and back to the man-made world, the piece alludes to other works of art. “The light from the Atrium pours in right through the fabric and resembles stained glass in a Gothic cathedral,” Lombino said. “It looks completely opaque from the front and then from the back, inside the dark, intimate space of between fabric and wall, it glows with the light of the towering space.”
In order for Knopke to know how light affects the material of his artwork like this, he had to develop an experienced handling of fabric. Since he has been using fabric to make art since he was a graduate student, he has had ample time to truly understand how to work with it as a medium. He said, “Most of my life I have made fairly traditional sculpture, with wood, metal, plaster—basic art materials. I discovered fabric in grad school when I wanted to try and be self-sufficient, it seemed making food [and] clothes were the top two ways to do that.”
This desire to be self-sufficient made Knopke’s artwork take on an extremely individualistic quality; he began using recycled fabric that he gathered to create his art. He wrote, “[There] are few materials I can use that are completely recycled, create little to no waste and use no toxic processes that have such richness. Most of the material I get from friends and family, the clothes they wore a few months ago to clothes they wore as babies/kids, their sheets towels etc.”
Students are flocking to the exhibit while they still can, and there’s a lot of excitement building around campus for it, especially in the art community. Essie Asan ’17 said, “It’s fantastic that we have this piece by Knopke on display, and the fact that it was designed specifically to be featured in the Loeb makes it even more special.”
It is only once in a while that the Loeb’s Atrium is filled with artwork, and the staff of the Loeb Art Center is unsure when another piece will be displayed in The Atrium. Lombino said, “Over the last 20 years since the building was completed, we’ve been able to use it just 3 times and each time, it’s for a finite period of time. And I’m not sure when we’ll do it again, so everyone should come and see it while it lasts. Each installation offers a completely new way to see the space.”
If you want to visit this exhibit while you still can, head over to the Loeb Art Center between now and July 20, 2014 to see Knopke’s spectacular artwork in person.