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  • Mary Coss

Architectural Overlays and Anatomical Infrastructures: catalogue essay

Virginia Maksymowicz’s work wittingly combines the anatomical with the architectural creating metaphorical and real relationships between the female figure and the built world. Tectonics in architecture is defined as the art of construction, both in regards to practical use and more specifically to artistic design. It refers to an activity that raises construction to an art form. Maksymowicz’s use of architectural concepts ironically welcomes a tectonic interpretation. Her art form exhibits an expertise in drawing and in assembling materials and concepts. This superimposition of ideas and imagery onto the space between the worlds of architecture and anatomy literally creates a tectonic art of construction, melding the physical and the conceptual into one.

Caryatids in Five Books paints a narrative in the relationships we draw between Maksymowicz’s adaptation of architectural detail and the words of Romanian poet, Cristina-Monica Moldoveanu. They are at once haunting and playful, casting shadows both literally and metaphorically. Time erodes as paper and hardened edges yellow. Allusions to static imagery in the poetry are overwrought by these elements of time passing, as entropy imbeds our personal memories. The poised precariousness of the slender columns defies physics, but just as these words of stasis dictate, the imagery is frozen in its unlikely balance.

The play between the ideal and the real repeatedly materializes throughout Maksymowicz’s creations. Cornice Portraits considers our preconception of beauty and challenges notions of the ideal, reclaiming the real. These comparisons, marked in delicate line, create beauty from silhouettes of diverse notions of attractiveness. Her skeletal use of architecture converts sheath to skin, transforming flesh and creating vellum of form. She twists architectural theory, creating cornices from silhouettes instead of allowing architecture to follow the idealized human proportion as commonly taught. Within these metaphorical overlays framing becomes bone, the façade of the structure becomes the skin.

The material strength of her sculpture balances with the delicate fragility of her drawing. It is the yin to her yang. Her fragile drawing is ethereal, the materiality of Caryatid stands in strong contrast, cast of building products from the architectural world. Her intentional use of raw plaster takes us on a journey to the marble and stone architecture that it references.

The artist gets at the physical crux of her metaphors when she speaks of her work Comparisons: “Caryatids and canephorae are, in many ways, the visual summation of human life and women’s fundamental role in supporting it.”

In this continuing dialogue of the real and the ideal, she overlays a folk statue of a common woman bearing a basket of produce with an idealized figure holding the weight of architecture. Just as vellum is a skin treated for use as a writing surface, the artist draws her skins to create layers of visuals and thoughts.

The original silk versions overlay two images that transpose in the viewer’s eye, the image becoming fluid and ethereal. As we look through the layers we wonder what is behind these women. Considering layers of history and culture, we alternate focus back and forth from one image to the next and see the shift yet the similarity. We are all ultimately the same. Our commonalities outweigh our differences.

Maksymowicz literally uses her media to elevate to an art form the architectural vocabulary of drafting and construction materials. Her play with concepts and allusions traverses the veneer of architecture with the flesh of the human body. She transposes the forms and consequently transforms our thoughts as we travel on her tectonic journey.

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Seattle artist Mary Coss (born 1955 in Detroit, MI) received a

Master of Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University in an

interdisciplinary sculpture and media department. She divides

her time between studio work, public and community art projects,

and teaching with an emphasis on social justice. She has shown

her work in solo and group exhibitions in galleries throughout the

U.S. and abroad with grant support from the NEA, Artist Trust and

the Puffin Foundation. Her public commissions include artwork for

housing authorities, state correctional facilities, schools and parks.

Coss is a member of the faculty at Antioch University and a co-

founder of METHOD Gallery in Seattle, where she curates work by

other contemporary artists.


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