The New ‘Material Girl’ for 2017:Constance Old at The Lionheart Gallery

The Lionheart Gallery
Apr 6, 2017 7:33PM

by Douglas P. Clement

“You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl.”

Constance Old doesn’t make political art, but there’s a touch of sociopolitical edginess to work that’s sociocultural at heart.

Teasing out those themes isn’t likely viewers’ first response. These works possess compelling surface beauty, which—in a clever metaphor to the realities of the fashion world—jauntily hide the deeper realities at play.

The New Canaan artist’s innovative contemporary fiber art, a 21st century version of rug hooking, uses byproducts of everyday materials that fuel the consumer economy—like plastic—to create abstracted commentaries on the excesses of materialism.

Left to Right: Filling the Void: Orange Fuzz 1, Filling the Void: Orange Fuzz 2, Filling the Void: Ica Green Center, Filling the Void: Nepali Paper + Orange Center, by Constance Old

In her new exhibit at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, N.Y., entitled Analog, the Yale-educated artist, who steeped in hyper-styled consumer culture as an art director for Martha Stewart Living, pairs a series of small works (Filling the Void) with larger pieces inspired by the casual chic, preppy fashion brand J.Crew.

Old’s unique homage to J.Crew began in 2010, when the artist made a piece with a disassembled J.Crew skirt with a Day-Glo pink stripe pattern.

Analog features the large work J.Crew Revisited, which amusingly improvises on the concept of a skirt by utilizing plastic construction fencing with a solid orange stripe; a large enough piece of skirt fabric wasn’t available.

Left to Right: J. Crew Revisited, J. Crew Grey Stripe, by Constance Old

J.Crew Grey Stripes is constructed with mixed paper, plastic and a disassembled J.Crew A-line skirt. The bands of grey, evoking the skirt’s structure, try to keep things in line but the rest of the canvas refuses to behave as the linear elements get trumped by the swagger of ovals surrounding insouciant crimson puffs.

There are two versions of J.Crew Skirt w/ Black Stripes in the Filling the Void series of small rectangular works with oval “voids” in the middle. They’re like fabric confections and suggest nothing more than fancy gifts, or gift-wrapping, a nod, perhaps, to the source material.

The bright colors and outward beauty of the artist’s work occlude deeper messages about how we live as a society, and the discontents of consumerist desire. Rather brilliantly, though, the source materials harvested by Old get to the heart of the matter.

Left to Right: Filling the Void: Black, White, Orange + Red 1, Filling the Void: Black, White, Orange + Red 2, Filling the Void: J. Crew Skirt with Black Stripes 1, Filling the Void: J. Crew Skirt with Black Stripes 2, by Constance Old

The bases, or substrates of the woven works, are things like plastic tarps, disassembled polyester mesh bags, shopping bags, handbags, and construction fencing. Recycled paper and plastic—and sometimes pieces of fabric harvested from a striped skirt—get pulled through those grids to create the sculptural surfaces.

Old appreciates the sense of frisson created by the contrast between traditional rug hooking and her contemporary version. Early practitioners of the form were driven by necessity and a scarcity of available raw materials for rugs, while the artist is blessed with excess across the supply-side spectrum.

Most of the exhibit is devoted to the small pieces in the Filling the Void series. The “canvas” for these experimental works is a 4-by-6-inch rectangle. An oval in the middle represents the void in the title of the series.

Left to Right: Beach Plastic # 1: Filling the Void: Grey + Aquamarine, Beach Plastic # 3: Filling the Void: Black + White Border with Dayglo Center, Beach Plastic # 4: Filling the Void: Pink Border with Speckled Pink + Brown Center, Beach Plastic # 5: Filling the Void: Blue Border with Blue Center, by Constance Old

The most intriguing pieces in the series the artist thinks of as “little paintings” may be a mini series of 10 works built on a substrate of woven plastic the artist found in Peru—and created with sea plastic and beach plastic found there, along with Mylar balloons.

A trinity of interwoven nuances is suggested. There’s a dialogue about formalism embodied by the materials, there’s an environmental theme at play in where and how the materials were sourced, and there are geopolitical implications hinted at in the inherent stratification of how consumer excess is articulated across the world.

Left to Right: Beach Plastic # 6: Filling the Void: Purple + Gold with Green, White, Yellow Center, Beach Plastic # 7: Filling the Void: Blue Border with Opalescent Center, Beach Plastic # 8: Filling the Void: Orange + Green with Blue Center, Beach Plastic # 10: Filling the Void: Red + Yellow with Black Center, by Constance Old

Each of the works in Analog comes with a delineation of the materials used, and the origin of the substrate. The exhibit runs through April 30 at The Lionheart Gallery. A talk by the artist is scheduled for April 8 at 4 p.m. (The snow date is April 9).

The Lionheart Gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information and directions to the gallery at 27 Westchester Avenue in Pound Ridge, N.Y., visit the website at or call the gallery at 914.764.8689.

The Lionheart Gallery