2017-05-25 / Around Town

Pushing the Boundaries of Art

By Loren King

Artist McKenzie Gibson's creations blend strength and beauty. (Photo by Emma Robinson) Artist McKenzie Gibson's creations blend strength and beauty. (Photo by Emma Robinson) Artist McKenzie Gibson thinks big. One of her signature pieces, “Apotropaic, 2013,” a sofa made from industrial knotted rope, required one dozen people to move massive coils upon coils of the rope up the staircase of a London studio (there wasn’t an elevator) when Gibson was a student at the Camberwell College of Arts.

“My hands hurt so much. I used every part of my body to wrap it. I torture myself. I don’t do anything that’s easy,” said Gibson, who now lives in Providence as she completes her MFA in furniture design from the Rhode Island School of Design. “I wanted to see if I could make the rope structural. When you see rope, you think sailing and nautical. I wanted to view it in a new light.”

The Knoxville, Tenn. native said that people often assume her work was created by a man. As a metalwork artist who is perfectly at home wielding a power hammer, a torch or a forge, she takes pleasure in subverting ideas of what makes a piece masculine or feminine.

Gibson is one of five artists, and the sole woman, in a group show at the Newport Contemporary Fine Arts’ Spring Exhibition. There will be an artist's reception on Thursday, May 25 at 6 p.m. The show represents a bit of a departure for Gibson, who created three

She used a power hammer to shape the forms (one bowl measures nearly 30 inches in diameter; the others are around 20 inches), and then melted the pewter and dripped the casting over the steel molds, like a painter, giving the object a fabric-like look that “captures my gestures,” she said.

“It is a long journey to get a bowl form,” she said, laughing with typical self-effacement since Gibson takes her work, not herself, seriously.

Her RISD classmates call her a “mad scientist” because of her frequent experimentation with gas and heat to melt elements. Her husband, David, a linguist who teaches at the Community College of Rhode Island, even gave her an anvil for their sixth wedding anniversary, which is perfect for a metalwork artist and an appropriate gesture since the traditional sixth anniversary gift is iron.

Gibson works out of a studio in the old Atlantic Mills Building, where she shares space with blacksmith and fellow RISD grad Carley Eisenberg. Gibson and Eisenberg became friends after both appeared on HGTV’s “Ellen’s Design Challenge.” Eisenberg was in Season One and Gibson appeared the following season, which aired last year.

She applied to be contestant on a whim and was surprised when she got the call to come to Los Angeles for an interview. She made the cut, but was eliminated in the second round of competition. “It destroyed me,” she said, “but it was a cool, high energy experience. All the designers were really nice and helpful. We stay in touch. I would totally do it again. I’m stubborn.”

Gibson grew up loving art and drawing, but she chose to major in architecture at the University of Tennessee for practical reasons. She enjoyed learning architectural history, but not the mathematical precision required for the work. After a few years in the business world, she went back to college, enrolling at London’s Camberwell and earning her drawing degree.

She realized how technology explodes the limits of two-dimensional drawing. “I thought, if drawing can be all this, what about furniture?” she said, describing her aim to push the boundaries of the industry. “The craftsmanship is amazing, but it needs to go beyond a trade. I want to think bigger.”

Gallery / Artist's Openings

NCFA Spring Show Newport Contemporary Fine Arts noted for new works by emerging artists will host an opening reception for its spring exhibition series on Thursday, May 25, from 6-8 p.m. Exhibiting artists include Tom Gaines, Ben Shattuck, John Crowley, Peter Cohen, and McKenzie Gibson. The gallery is located at 219 Goddard Row, Brick Marketplace.

CIAA Reception The Conanicut Island Art Association opening reception for “Spring It On,” Jamestown Town Hall Gallery, 93 Narragansett Ave., Jamestown, Thursday, May 25, 5-7 p.m.

Portsmouth Arts Guild Opening Reception “Imagine Gold,” Portsmouth Arts Guild Center for the Arts, 2679 East Main Road, Portsmouth, Friday, May 26, from 6-8 p.m., show through June 25, 401-293-5278, portsmoutharts.org.

Newport Art Museum Exhibition Opening “Forget Me Not,” by Caleb Cole, Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Ave., Saturday, May 27, exhibit through July 30, 401-848-8200, newportartmuseum.org.

DeBlois Gallery Opening Reception The Casselman family art kites, DeBlois Gallery, 134 Aquidneck Ave., Middletown, Saturday, June 3, from 5-7 p.m., shown through June 25, 401-847-9977, debloisgallery.com.

Positive Energy The June exhibition at Spring Bull Gallery titled “Positive Energy” will feature artists Nina Ackmann, Tiffany Adams, Donato Beauchaine, Lorraine Bromley, and Mark Knapp. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, June 3, from 5 -7 p.m. at the gallery, 55 Bellevue Ave.

Loren King is an arts and entertainment writer whose work appears regularly in The Boston Globe and other publications.

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