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Anita Sue Kolman Gallery features transforming fashion, art

Patrick Kemal Pryor with model wearing dress of his design

Patrick Kemal Pryor with model wearing dress of his design

​Starting this Saturday, Anita Sue Kolman Gallery will host "Fashioned: One Becomes Another," an exhibition that explores transformation. It will feature artists turning materials from their original functions into something else, often drawing inspiration from the natural world. Former Project Runway contestant Christopher Straub creates fashion designs from canvasses painted by abstract painter Patrick Kemal Pryor, Nancy MacKenzie creates works by recycling found objects and natural materials, and Kate Casanova creates a live mushroom nest on a sitting chair.

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Patrick Kemal Pryor met Christopher Straub at an event last year called Fashion + Fusion, a benefit for People Serving People, where Straub was a judge. Pryor was a contestant and ended up winning the Most Wearable award. 

Straub says that Pryor's fashion design was his favorite; he had taken a painted canvas and basket-weaved it into fabric. He approached Pryor after the show and gave him some feedback. Following the contest, Pryor emailed Straub and proposed that they work together. 

Straub says the process of taking Pryor's canvasses and creating fashion designs for them is the type of thing he could do for the rest of his life. He considers himself a fashion artist, and isn't the type of designer who likes to just make something from a beautiful piece of silk. "I want it to be a true art piece," he says.
The way that the two artists collaborated involved Pryor finishing a painting and handing it off to Straub. He would then look at it, study the negative and positive space, and start to create sketches. His designs were very much informed by the paintings themselves.

Pryor, who often works collaboratively with musicians and dancers, says that it was an amazing feeling to see what Straub came up with from his pieces. 

Pre-Dress Canvas by Patrick Pryor

Pre-Dress Canvas by Patrick Pryor

"I get to see my paintings move and become alive which I love," he says. "They're given new life that they wouldn't have had otherwise." 

His favorites are the ones where he uses a light, robin-egg-colored background, with red and amber abstract designs. Pryor says that in a couple of pieces part of the dress comes out of itself so that the whole outfit becomes a sea creature, mimicking the shape and design of the painting. "It's all one," he says. "The pattern and shape of the dress are so tight together." 
Around the same time that Straub and Pryor were in contact with each other, Anita Sue Kolman was searching for artists for a fiber show that she wanted to have in the gallery this fall. She knew that she wanted to present Nancy MacKenzie's work in the exhibition. When she approached MacKenzie--a fiber-art pioneer--she invited Kolman as well as Pryor, the gallery's curator, to her studio to see her vegetable/fruit bag and twig sculptures. 

"My work is largely recycled stuff," says MacKenzie. She makes things out of plastic vegetable bags, twine, or prunings from apple trees, weeping willows, and bark. "It's stuff I pick up," she says. She enjoys the challenge of improvising techniques to solve the engineering and aesthetic problems of construction, transforming mundane materials into works of art. 

MacKenzie started out as a painter and drawing artist, but her interest has gradually shifted to fiber arts. "At first, it was just dyeing things," she says, "but eventually I started experimenting." 

Kolman and Pryor decided to have a show featuring Mackenzie, plus the collaboration between Straub and Pryor, but they still wanted one more artist for the exhibit. When they visited MCAD's fiber-art show during the summer, they discovered the work of Kate Casanova. "Although her exhibit artwork was a fiber piece," Kolman says, "it seemed to be more than that to us." 
Casanova agreed to talk to Kolman and Prior about the exhibit, and told them of her idea about a mushroom growing chair. "None of us were sure how this might fit into the fiber theme other than the chair was upholstered and mushrooms have fiber," Kolman says. "But we liked the idea, and told Kate to go ahead."

It hit them then that they weren't planning a fiber show, but something more. In the exhibition, the artists explore and investigate problems and relationships that are "not only important to them, but would also be of interest to the gallery's audience," Kolman says.  

Casanova says that the natural world has always been an inspiration in her work, and lately she's been trying to incorporate living pieces into her art. "Mushrooms seemed like the perfect organism," she says. "They aid in decay, but also aid other organisms in new life." The work that she's presenting uses the chair as a stand-in for the human body, so that the piece as a whole signifies the life and death cycle. 

Of course, working with living things can be tricky, and timing is key: The mushrooms have already "fruited" and are currently growing for the second time. Hopefully they'll be nice and big for Saturday's opening. "It's unpredictable," Casanova says. "So far in my experience I've been able to control it to a certain degree."

"Fashioned: One Becomes Another" runs from Saturday, September 10 through October 29 at Anita Sue Kolman Gallery in the Northrup King Building. The opening reception is Saturday, September 17 from 7 to 10 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., models will display the original Christopher Straub designs fashioned from abstract paintings on canvas by Patrick Kemal Pryor, before they become sculptures on dress forms. The gallery and reception are free and open to the public. For more info, visit the gallery's web site at askanita.com or call 612.385.4239.