by Bill Lasarow

"Hero," woodblock prints on
stitched canvas, 10 x 10', 1997.


"Handmade Language,"
woodblock prints on stitched
canvas, 7 x 8', 1994.


"Quilt," woodblock prints on
stitched canvas, 4 x 8'.


"Untitled #2," woodblock prints on
stitched canvas, 3 x 4', 1997.

(Chac-Mool Gallery, West Hollywood) It's always a pleasure to encounter a young artist who brings energy and flair to a new body of work that suggests they may be around and contributing for a long time. There are some positive indications that Stephanie Kopelson will do this. Not yet thirty, her initial body of work is energetic, rich and decisive. She appears to have already established a working formula that provides a comfortable foundation from which new objects may be developed and produced, but which offers plenty of creative moments for impulse to push her work in unpredictable directions.

Kopelson begins a work with a woodblock module. The small square format of each woodblock print will eventually come to rest as an incident within a much larger grid structure. The images themselves are rather pre-verbal in nature, literally so in the case of the many single letters of the alphabet. These are done with the pictographic roughness of a child's hand, though constantly revisited from a decorative standpoint that belies the initial suggestion. Numbers are approached similarly, and then follows a whole roster of favored subjects: hands, heads, houses, hearts, stars. The hand may appear within a star, or hold one. It's pointless but tempting to try to figure out just how many wood-blocks have been carved, since the same module may be used repeatedly. But it quickly becomes obvious that Kopelson resists any temptation to rely on one rendition of anything. The one thing these are not are mechanical. Her line work and surface shift and vibrate like a kid with a full bladder.

Next comes a conceptual phase, an organizing principle by which a number of individual prints will be brought together into a new whole. Formally this generally amounts to a grid. One earlier work (not included in this show) is titled Guardians of the Secret, done 50 years after the key Jackson Pollock work of 1943. Besides the title paying homage to the icon of postwar American Modernism, it quoted the composition and subject closely enough to represent a conspicuous attempt to update the original. This sort of reference is not so evident from the titles of the newer works on view such as Handmade Language or Hero, but the formalism is actually purer.

Least visible is the preferred method of assembling the modules into a finished work, stitched thread. One work titled Quilt makes it clear that this important tradition is very much in the artist's mind. Looking back to the great burst of modern Feminism during the 1970's, there was at that time a powerful desire on the part of women artists to reference traditional female images and activities for placement into the context of contemporary art. At the time it not only served to enrich the field of visual possibility, but fueled the growth of previously neglected areas of cultural and historical inquiry. Today the context is quite different. If we regard Kopelson's approach as indicative, the choice of stitching is important in terms of it being appropriate to the aesthetic at work, not as a didactic or rebellious statement. It's far more important that the threadwork subtly enriches the surface and contributes to the placement and organization of the modular elements. But it would be wrong, nonetheless, to render the Feminist impulse meaningless. It has become a personal rather than social statement, a particular element rather than the raison d'etre.

The final step solidifies the sense that Kopelson is organizing her varied sources into a fundamentally personal statement. Once brought together, she moves back into the work to add marks and color, making greater or lesser additions based on nothing more than good old artist's intuition. That Kopelson's aesthetic preferences form the building blocks of work that culminates with the "freedom to play around" (to use her own words) makes perfect sense. The artworks themselves convey the feeling that their component parts are being celebrated. If the stew is to your taste, chances are you will revel in it.