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CLOSEST TO CLOUDS: Meghan Shimek & Nicholas Syzmanski

MEGHAN SHIMEK is a weaver and fiber artist based in the San Francisco Bay area. She was first introduced to weaving just two years ago through a class in her hometown of Flint, Michigan, though her expertise and recognition in the craft has grown momentously since then. She has learned to weave with a variety of techniques, including traditional Navajo weaving, and now leads her own workshops in cities throughout California and beyond. She has even designed and produced a series of unique, user-friendly looms which are available for sale through her website. Meghan participates in an enthusiastic online community of fiber artists and regularly documents her latest designs to a passionate online audience in excess of eight thousand viewers.

Though already accomplished in a variety of weaving styles, one of Meghan’s most distinctive and celebrated directions is her use of raw roving fibers as a primary weaving material. Roving, long drawn out bundles of carded fiber, is more commonly used by crafters who do their own felting or yarn spinning. In her weavings, however, the roving allows Meghan to produce thick, highly textured compositions with warm, complex shadow patterns. The roving is softly twisted as it threads through the warp, creating gentle, bulbous shapes that seem contained, yet relaxed and free to slowly wander. There is an impression of simultaneous lightness and heavy mass, of an ordered comfort and also unpredictability. Her roving compositions are methodical, but rarely pre-planned. 

Meghan prefers to use un-dyed or naturally dyed fibers and the colors seen in her roving weavings feel familiar to the earth, the sky and to the animal coats the fibers first came from. Humble observation of nature is a significant influence to Meghan’s work. She recounts watching the sky and the changing clouds, looking through canopies of Redwood forests, listening to streams, and remembering the cold, snowy nights of her Michigan childhood.

NICHOLAS SZYMANSKI is a West Michigan native and 2013 B.F.A. graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design. He has experimented variously with drawing, ceramics and collage, but has concentrated his focus on painting. He self-identifies as a contemporary painter, though doesn’t express allegiance to any particular style or movement. As an artist, he is enamored with his material, not a message. Nicholas is a formalist, passionately concerned with the subtle visual details of his craft: how paint layers rest on each other, how the paint is received by different textures and weights of canvas or panel, or how light reflects across the surface of the work. He works comfortably with oil, acrylic and gouache. On occasion, Nicholas will introduce a non-traditional collage element, or work reductively, usually by sanding. The paintings are often smooth, flat and washed, at times as if the paint were intending not to cover the surface, but to stain it.

The lack of discernable subject matter often leads viewers to describe Nicholas’s work as minimalist, as term he himself avoids. As a movement, Minimalism has aesthetic and social goals that he doesn’t necessarily share. And, in fact, his paintings are actually quite complex, even if their patterns are not pronounced loudly. Subdued abstraction might be a more appropriate description. The works contain an atmospheric quality, a soft density that obscures clarity, like a cool morning fog or a cloudy, humid horizon. We are reminded, too, of the multiforms and color fields of the great Abstract Expressionist painters. Nicholas’s paintings are also informed by his habit of looking for artistic visions in unexpected places. He describes a fascination by the tiny, usually ignored visual encounters of daily life, like a well-worm floor surface, a foggy window or subtle changes in light and shadow. It is, for him, poetry of the underappreciated; a slow, quiet and introspective digestion of image.

- Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez, Curator