Artist Jeffrey Gibson’s work is on view at SCAD Atlanta’s Gallery 1600. CONTRIBUTED BY SCAD

Review: Craft, Native American influences in Jeffrey Gibson’s art

Jeffrey Gibson’s colorful, festive tapestries and bedazzled punching bags festooned with beads and yarn, metal rivets and copper jingles combine celebration with a backbeat of angst.

Native American artist Gibson has a way with ornamentation, piling on decoration with a vengeance. His first solo exhibition in the Southeast on view at SCAD Atlanta’s Gallery 1600, “A Kind of Confession,” features visual feasts of color and texture. Gibson weaves phrases into his works rendered in beadwork that can often suggest LED signs, with their pixelated letters composed of individual beads.

The show’s title comes from African-American author James Baldwin’s phrase “all art is a kind of confession.” The work itself speaks to an expression of identity and attitude reflected in material and message.

Gibson’s intense color scheme of juiced-up yellows, scarlets and aquas and the use of yarn, beads, cowrie shells, ribbon, arrowheads and precious stone reference the costumes of Native American powwows and other ceremonial garb, drawn from the artist’s part Cherokee and Choctaw background. But Gibson’s influences are myriad, a mix of that heritage and training at the Art Institute of Chicago and England’s Royal College of Art. Works can also conjure up associations with Jenny Holzer’s text-based sculptures and the wild ornamentation and excess of performance artist Nick Cave, rolled up into one unique package.

“When Push Comes to Shove” is a characteristic Gibson blend of confrontation and pageantry. Thick strands of white, yellow, red, black and blue fringe streams like tap water from an assemblage of beads and metal studs mounted onto an Army blanket and spelling out that titular phrase. Other works seem to speak to a First World landscape of copious abundance. “What We Want, What We Need” is embroidered onto another tapestry, like a cautionary tale. With titles like “The Only Way Out Is Through,” “I’m Gonna Try a Little Bit Harder” and “The Difference Between You and Me,” the works speak to narratives of resilience and endurance next to the works’ celebratory pageantry, a satisfying contradiction that gives these works added resonance and depth.

An installation in the center of the room, “All for One, One for All,” made from large pieces of driftwood, is a standout in an already compelling representation of Gibson’s unique voice. Topped with a strange ceramic “head” wearing a necklace of thread and metal jingles and draped in a cloak of ribbons, the splayed posture of the driftwood gives this humanoid figure an almost defiant attitude, and the impression that it could pounce from its position at any moment.

What that piece underscores is something present in much of Gibson’s work: a sense of movement and performance, as if these objects with flowing beads and ribbons and fringe are costumes waiting for a dancer to inhabit them. Gibson’s cascading fringes of metal jingles and flowing yarn nearly pulsate with a yearning to be animated.

Implied action and a sense of physicality also come through in two of Gibson’s embellished punching bags on display. Ornamented with black and white beads, “Where I’m Calling From” is an engaging juxtaposition of grit and glamour. Gibson has called his Everlast punching bags “outsiders,” likening them to subcultures beyond the margins of society, highly adorned and iconoclastic figures.

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