In many ways, artist Jessi Reaves is not your typical furniture maker: "some people are in search of the pastoral or the meditative material experiment," says Reaves, "I think my approach is kind of brutal. I hate sanding. When I get to that stage in making something I always get really angry, wearing the dust mask etc., so I just power through it as much as I can, unlike some craftsmen who might really find pleasure in that and find sanding meditative."
Quick-To-Sew Jester's Hat (Noguchi Knockoff #1), 2016. Cedar chips, sawdust, glass, pewter paint (All photos courtesy of Bridget Donahue Gallery)
The brutality she refers to manifests transparently as you experience her furniture pieces in person, a good number of which are currently on display at Bridget Donahue Gallery in New York.
In the corner of the gallery stands a knock-off Noguchi table, one of the first pieces she made that sparked her interest in creating this semi-functionalist series, donning a base made of gunked-up sawdust and wood chips grotesquely reminiscent of its original inspiration. A shelf at the entrance is dressed in an embryonic spider web-like cocoon—all standing there like a mad woodworker's reinterpretation of classic modern design.
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A RISD painting graduate who spent years working as an upholsterer, Reaves's origins in the realm of furniture are rooted in a knowledge of the infrastructure and skeletons of furnishings, which translates visually within her work (many pieces might make you imagine someone taking refined pieces of furniture and somehow turning them inside out to show their guts).
Foam Couch with Straps, 2016. Upholstery foam, fiberglass, wood, webbing
Reaves's process reveals the artist's freedom from a typical designer's perfectionist point of view and her desire to express an idea as opposed to something wholly and purely functional. Many of the objects are reported to be done extemporaneously, which ultimately leads to a form familiar to the worlds of architecture and design while also carrying an imperfect human spirit, an unspoken history. Reaves mentions to Bridget Donahue for Foundations Magazine this is not only something she embraces but fully appreciates:
"Ideally I want people to embrace the kind of patina or whatever you call it… the stuff that attaches to any object existing in the world. I just feel like the longer that I've lived with certain pieces, or ones that I've had in the studio, that have survived parties, I love those pieces more. Even the stains changes over time, spreading out and they kind of have their own life."
Candy Rain Chair (Leather Butterfly), 2016. Plywood, leather, foam, webbing, linen Muscle Chair (Laying down to talk), 2016. Suede leather, steel, sawdust, bun feet, resin, foam Cabinet for Rotten Log, 2016. Plywood, driftwood
So yes, technically you can sit and interact with these forms, but as for labeling them as either art or furniture it's simply impossible to make the distinction—each lie comfortably in between, individually asking different questions about process, material, and purpose. Lastly and arguably most importantly, the objects bring into question what constitutes value: should the quality of an object be determined by the time taken to make something structurally pure and perfect, or is it ultimately about the particular spirit behind the maker?
Jessi Reaves's solo show will be on display until Sunday, June 5th at Bridget Donahue Gallery, 99 Bowery, 2nd Floor in New York.