Thrill of the quill: van Riel takes flight
While walking home from work last spring, artist Loes van Riel picked up a stray pigeon feather. It stirred fond memories of Dam Square in Amsterdam, where van Riel grew up. She placed the feather on the worktable in her studio. One day as she was pondering a direction for a new project, she absentmindedly placed the feather on a square of black matte board, and thought, “Whoa!”
Just like that, van Riel found the concept for her current exhibition at Angelo, “Dreaming of Dam Square.” Inspired by how pigeons are ubiquitous in cities throughout the world and by the line, texture and color gradation of their feathers, she began composing a series of abstract mixed-media pieces using either a tail or wing feather as a central component.
Working with a palette of black, red, gold, white, and grey, van Riel includes elements recognizable from her previous work, such as an antique map of Amsterdam, which she used in a 2007 exhibition exploring Rembrandt’s life. Other signature bits include 24kt gold leaf, tiny screens, small metallic tubes, and torn paper. Discussing her decision to include the highly valued gold leaf in this series, van Riel says, “It’s fun to use that with such an ordinary bird.”
She also introduces a few new components that complement the feathers in her intuitively balanced compositions. For instance, she trades her familiar tiny silver spheres for itty-bitty pearls in the current series, strewing them in seemingly random patterns across her black or red backgrounds or using them as punctuation points. The reason for the switch, she explains, is because pearls, like feathers, are organic and generated by living beings.
In three noteworthy pieces, van Riel uses deckle-edged, white paper she made by hand. “Dreaming Dam Square #7” stands out for its fluffy horizontal swath of white with a sculptural lower edge, which serves as a backdrop for four stacked tail feathers that descend vertically through the center of the image, dipping down to a rough horizontal strip of grey paper on black that recalls a stormy sea. At the top of the feathers’ shafts, a small cloud of gold floats, a bit of red at its center.
In every work, van Riel meticulously considers how each detail affects the overall composition. Nothing is careless. This attention extends to her framing, which pulls viewers’ eyes into each jewel-like piece.
Pigeon feathers were never more precious.
Loes van Riel’s exhibition, “Dreaming Dam Square,” is on view through October at Angelo, 220 E. Main St. 971-9256.