Leah Piepgras Doesn’t “Practice” Art

Buried somewhere in American artist Leah Piepgras’ purse is an article written by the art critic Roberta Smith for the New York Times. Published on December 23, 2007, Smith’s write-up decries the “fashionably obtuse language” used to describe art. Her particular point of contention? The word “practice,” and the ways in which it “sanitizes” the messy, open-ended business of art-making. That artists require authorization or need a license to practice as the term implies is, in Smith’s view, antithetical to the very definition of an artist.

And there’s little surprise that Piepgras keeps these words close to her heart. The artist isn’t seeking our consent, and the sculptures and works on paper she brings together in her current solo show “!SUPER VISION!” at GRIN gallery are anything but a practice run. Piepgras’ carefully meditated sculptures constitute open and playful, if searching, explorations of self-perception. Cloud Mantle / Cloud Vision, a hollow, cotton-candy-colored sculpture, doubles as an all-immersive helmet. Its protrusions of foam and epoxy resin echo in smaller works, like Visions While Awake VI, where they are affixed to plexiglass. Shiny, reflective surfaces appear everywhere: whether in the deep blue of the floor sculpture Dark Pool (Soul-Delight Dish) or the more jewel-like cutouts of Tools for Seeing Seeing, anywhere the viewer looks, she sees herself peering back.

The interplay among forms creates a web of reciprocal glances that ruffle static perceptions of ourselves and our environment. In Piepgras’ words, our minds are “in a constant state of becoming, with shifts so subtle that you might always feel the same and, only by looking back/reflecting, do you see the transformation.” Her artworks urge us toward heightened alertness through delicate incursions into our space. And Piepgras isn’t asking for our permission.

—Amanda Sarroff

!SUPER VISION!” is on view at GRIN, Providence, Rhode Island, June 19 – July 12, 2014.

Follow GRIN on Artsy.