25 January – 24 April 2016
curated by Melissa Staiger


The exhibition BASELINE features Sophia Chai, Jeff Fichera, MaDora Frey, Rhia Hurt and Beatrice Wolert. BASELINE shows the importance of light, form and materials in creating an image. You will see sculptures and paintings mounted to the wall as installations, observational painting that looks like abstraction and photography that shows us a studio wall. The artists crack open the surface and reveal a deeper connection and dialogue in their works.

Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done: the dictation of the materials.
— Anni Albers

Master artist Anni Albers vocalizes an artist’s delving deeper into the practice of making art and affirms the vital conversation between artists and their materials. She hints at the communion that artists, with their constant assessment and editing, have with their materials. BASELINE narrates the story these five artists share with their materials.

But how did it all begin? John Ros, the founder of galleryELL asked me to curate a digital exhibition; I knew it would have to do with texture and materials and feeling enchanted by them. Below is a curatorial backstory, which shines light on how working on this project resonates with my own sensibilities.

As Trestle Projects curator-in-residence, I saw an opportunity to have the artists display their work both at Trestle Projects and online with galleryELL. This adds a “virtual” version of the work to the live exhibition and provides a complementary experience.

I also wanted to film artists in their working environment to showcase a broader understanding of their work. I visited each artist’s studio twice. The first time was to start the conversation, and the second time I recorded the artists in their studios discussing their process, work and materials.


All my work keeps going like a pendulum; it seems to swing back into something I was involved with earlier, or it moves between horizontality and verticality, circularity, or a composite of them. For me, I suppose that change is the only constant.
— Lee Krasner

I feel that Krasner nails the relationship the artists in BASELINE have to their processes and connections to their materials. All of the artists related similar developmental experiences when I spoke to them in their studios: how their prior work and interests bridged their past to their present and their new work of today. As Krasner says, the story of an artist always sways like the pendulum, and BASELINE tracks the stories of the swinging pattern.

CHAI IMAGE GALLERY: click on an image below to view the images as a slide show.

Sophia Chai first developed her process by building a life-size camera obscura in graduate school. The experience of having an immersive space to figure out the operations of the camera has led her to use a 4- x 5-inch format camera to create abstract images that use materials such as tape, paper, house paint and natural light to mesh space and image.

On her viewfinder she matches the gridlike pattern taped on her studio wall and floor to the exact same 2-D frame on her camera. When she arranges her materials, such as used roll of tape, an electrical plug or shapes painted on the wall, she sends us to a transformed reality.

Chai compares her interest in materials and process to the film-maker Pedro Costa’s. Costa inserts himself in a community before creating his work and then resonates images with the environment. The studio to Chai functions in the same way, and in her photography she uses the camera’s “organized format” to rupture space.

FICHERA IMAGE GALLERY: click on an image below to view the images as a slide show.

Jeff Fichera uses sustained painting in his intricate works that describe the most subtle and elusive surfaces. Fichera has created new modular paintings consisting of sixteen panels that can be reconfigured in different ways with holographic patterning.

Fichera is an observational painter and previously painted landscapes. He then moved into painting ambiguous forms with the interest in using color to paint space. To paint holographic films he had to wear the same shoes, look at the surface in the same way, and not move to be able re-create each cell.

Scale didn’t matter to Fichera, and he created these large, bigger-than-human-size paintings. With Fichera’s interest in small details — such as wobbly paint application, the painterly approach, imperfections from brush hair or fingerprints — each painting “comes as it comes,” expresses Fichera. These paintings are not planned and each is a new performance.

HURT IMAGE GALLERY: click on an image below to view the images as a slide show.

Rhia Hurt has a new installation arrangement for her collages, Reflections, 2015. These mostly white and clear plastic works hover together perched on the wall. This work takes on a metaphysical feeling of abstraction and nature.

In her experimental process, she wields the 2-D into the 3-D. Hurt finds the collage process freeing by the way she cuts and builds her collages back together. The pieces sometimes look rough and have a broken feel but when amassed on the wall they take on the energy of a gust of wind blowing falling leaves.

Hurt grew up in Northern California, and much of her recent imagery is culled from that lost coastline — its jagged edges, reflective surfaces, and asymmetrical shapes. Memories observing landscape, light, and water drive studies in color, texture, and hand-made, painted marks in her Brooklyn studio.

FREY IMAGE GALLERY: click on an image below to view the images as a slide show.

MaDora Frey creates geometric sculptures from drawings, mirror and light. With titles such as “Kaleidoscope”, simultaneously, one can feel edges and endlessness in her work. Her work combines a sense of the expansive, with mossy and earthy colors, which are reminiscent of cells and plant life. Her work balances the futuristic with that which is earth-bound.

Frey’s new work grew from her drawing practice. The drawing portions of her constructions result from applying liquid graphite to paper through various techniques. Rarely using brushes, Frey implements many different tools and techniques including using her hands. The resulting images are reminiscent of nascent landscapes and aerial perspectives.

Working with patterns and systems that are both geometric and organic, the artist’s intent is to describe “in-between places.” Part of that pleasure is her use of infinite regress, which makes these internal abstracted spaces go beyond the walls. These works are a type of landscape — one which provides the viewer with a dynamic viewing experience, depending on one’s vantage point.

WOLERT IMAGE GALLERY: click on an image below to view the images as a slide show.

Beatrice Wolert works with various materials such as ceramics, fabric, paper, wood, found objects, industrial objects and cement. Wolert has created a series of porcelain sculptures that breathe with perforated circular patterns and show her relationship to found objects. She is interested in different ways of physically creating space and connects it to personal space.

“By employing various processes of deconstructing, reconstructing, cutting, slicing, stretching, amassing, drilling, stapling and throwing, I highlight the physical properties of these materials. Previously static objects become animated and gain more character,” states Wolert.

She is interested in and re-creates hand-made traditions like quilting, sewing, knitting and ceramics in her work. First, she produces hand-made textiles and pieces and finds objects, and when the right amount of pieces has been amassed, she begins a gestation period of playing with the works to create the right union. Wolert comments that “throwing a slab of clay allows me to explore the physicality of the natural material itself worked by my hand and body. The form of the clay is defined by gravity and my force.”

Curatorial Backstory:
I had the opportunity to meet the spiritual leader Amma, a Hindu guru who is revered as the “hugging saint” by her followers. I felt a tremendous shift of energy when she came onto the stage, as you do when any performer who is loved does. The energy wound up faster and faster the closer you got to what almost felt like a hive, she being the queen bee as well as a channel to experience true love. Getting closer with hug after hug, I felt pulled into the energy of the group. It felt intense almost like a giant magnet pulling my energy closer and pushing me far into space at the same time.

To ground myself in this wild moment, I purchased a brown coconut to give her. The feeling of giving an offering or a trade felt necessary. Holding that fruit, I felt the skin on the surface, the texture under my fingers. This helped me to pull myself out of the trance energy around me and physically ground myself. “What am I supposed to learn here?” I asked. The response was profound. ‘Use texture!’ Very simple, and I have!
— Melissa Staiger

BASELINE is presented in collaboration with Trestle Projects, which is hosting a physical exhibition from 15 January – 12 February 2016, with an Artist Panel Discussion on Saturday, 30 January 2016, 3-4p.