CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Getting seamy: Grahame reaps what she sews

It feels like one of those zeitgeist moments. Currently, three shows in town feature work by non-fabric artists who, nevertheless, use stitchery as an element in their compositions. Marie Mennes' embroidered paintings at PVCC are a highlight of its "Wonder Women" exhibition, while several of Anne Chestnut's prints at Les Yeux du Monde feature sewing.

Janet Grahame also knows a thing or two about non-traditional needlework. For years, Grahame has used tight machine stitching to piece together— or to give the illusion of piecing together— snippets of etchings and monoprints, creating crazy quilt-like abstract works that become more wondrous the closer the viewer looks. Grahame's exhibition at the McGuffey Art Center, "Personal Nature," which also includes several acrylic paintings on canvas, provides a tour de force overview of her unique aesthetic.

The kaleidoscopic way Grahame divides up her images and the exuberant quality of her lines call to mind Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinksy. And like them, she clearly loves color, although she sometimes veers toward a Rainbow Brite/My Little Pony palette— rife with yellow greens, lilacs, and aquas— made even more sugary by the artist's penchant for shiny thread and textured sparkly bits.

But that's a minor and entirely subjective complaint. What amazes about Grahame's work is the mind-boggling detail in each piece. Looking closely at Grahame's stitched paper compositions, the viewer's eye keeps moving and discovering surprises and small treasures. In the bottom left corner of "Postcards of Nelson County," for instance, Grahame includes a cascade of loose teal stitches like a small rill in a creek. Elsewhere she subtly sews color into printed shapes. 

One of the strongest pieces in the show is "C-ville with Satellite Dishes," which shifts– barely– from pure abstraction to a collaged aerial view of a street scene. In the upper left, circular shapes representing rooftop satellite dishes find balance on the lower right in Grahame's interpretation of the familiar spherical planters from the Downtown Mall. The stitch-framed windows with carnival glass-colored panes, running the length of an industrial building, are particularly wonderful. Here Grahame's palette is saturated and intense, yet still spans the spectrum.

The acrylic paintings on display echo the aesthetic of Grahame's sewn collages, but several have diffuse outer edges that detract from the linear impact of their central images. Where Grahame really shines (even when it's shiny) is when she takes needle and thread to printed paper.

Janet Grahame's exhibition of paintings and print collages, "Personal Nature," is on view at the McGuffey Art Centery through March 30. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.