To approach a work of art by Dharma Strasser MacColl is to experience a series of unexpected layers and exquisite surprises.
On first glance, each work is serenely beautiful to behold – the primal shapes, the magnetic compositions, the saturated colors.
Come closer, however, and the surfaces begin bubbling with sculptural details. You notice the stitches overlaying brush strokes and the intricate hand-cut patterns of lace-like paper. You detect the flutter and shadow of delicate felt forms and ceramic beads.
Dharma has been making art for almost twenty years, and her newest body of work “Interlace” combines painting and ceramics in an entirely unique way. The shapes she uses – floral, starburst, leafy – echo those found in nature: “nature on steroids” as she likes to say. They also often evoke the cellular, as if peering through a microscope at a thin slice of a larger organism.
Dharma has a hand in making or shaping most of the media she uses. She cuts and sews with felt and Nepalese lokta paper. She forms and fires the porcelain and clay beads that sparsely adorn many of her pieces. Her studies in ceramics as well as Pre-Columbian and African art are evident. But the care and precision she puts into her beadwork is inspired by her English grandmother, who made bouquets of vibrant flowers with wire and tiny seed beads.
Her materials – clay, wool felt, thread – may be substantial, but Dharma manages to transform them into something ethereal and airy. Her compositions explore the Japanese concept of ma – of active negative space, the space between things. Other essential themes that dance around “Interlace” are the interconnectedness of life and the playful tension between intricacy and simplicity, form and abstraction, modern and primitive.
When Dharma dives in to a new piece, she’s never quite sure of how it will end up. There’s a sense of wonder and curiosity in her process – she stays open to whatever comes, discovering her own work as it breathes and grows. And we imagine that each work is as compelling for her to make as it is for us to see.
Dharma Strasser MacColl shows at Traywick Contemporary in Berkeley, CA