Artist Brenda Perry-Herrera exudes light and positivity- both on cotton fabric and in person. It was a joy to meet her last night at Salomon Arts Gallery, where her fabric cyanotype prints were being previewed as part of TriBeCa Art Walk. Her solo exhibition, “The Felling,” opens this evening. Perry-Herrera is enthusiastic about many things, including the beauty of trees, the power of the sun as a medium, and the potential for art to change people’s minds.
The works in this exhibition were created using an obsolete printing process called cyanotype printing. This process was adopted by architects in the 19th century to create blueprints. When you see the works from “The Felling,” you’ll understand why. Take a look at The Felling (2017).
As you can see, the term ‘blueprint’ derives from the actual color of the prints. The process involves creating and then applying a light sensitive solution to fabric. Perry-Herrera likens this part of the process to being a chemist. “I feel like being an artist is very much like being a scientist,” she says. “Sometimes [I’m] a surgeon, and I’m using a hypodermic needle, and I’ve got these gloves on… but I’m doing something for my work.” This step is followed by the superimposition of a negative over the fabric. The artist then exposes the work to the sun, which transfers the pigment to the print. The completed images are always a lovely indigo blue- unless she changes one chemical, in which case the final print is brown. A glossy coat of resin gives the finished work the appearance of porcelain.
“The Felling” was inspired by a research project Perry-Herrera conducted while studying at the University of Texas. Her concerns with deforestation led Perry-Herrera to question the origins of lumber at her local hardware store. She traced the trail of lumber all the way back to a logging site outside of Houston, TX. It was here that she witnessed the felling of the trees depicted in this exhibition. Standing Before Felling 1 (2017) wholly captures Perry-Herrera’s feelings towards this event:
This beautiful tree stands tall but alone, separated from its bretheren by its height. In some ways the tree exudes power; a monolith of the earth reaching towards the heavens. Its existence in both realms lends it an aura of divinity. And yet, it remains vulnerable due to the thinness of its trunk and its isolation in the sky. When will this tree topple, we are asked. There is strength in numbers, as the old adage goes, and this tree has no one. Here Perry-Herrera has captured the complicated relationship between mankind and Mother Earth: At times we see nature as something divine to be revered, and in other instances, as a beast to be conquered.
Perry-Herrera falls into the former camp. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, she was fascinated by light in the desert around her. This fostered a close kinship with the earth in many ecosystems, including the forests pictured in “The Felling.” She views deforestation as an urgent problem, and hopes her work will communicate to viewers the beauty- and vulnerability- of trees.
I find it quite interesting that Perry-Herrera’s call to action is so subtle and lyrical. Rather than hitting people over the head with her message (“Stop cutting down trees!”) she appeals to their senses. She first blesses us with the beauty of the tree, delicately depicted through the deployment of light sensitive solution to fabric. She then illustrates nature’s mortality. The image of a lone tree, exposed to the world- and, it is implied, the sharp blade of an axe- is a gentle reminder that forests are not infinite. The subsequent emotional reaction felt by viewers is sadness. Thus, Perry-Herrera educates us quietly and softly- but the effect is felt deep within.
In person, Perry-Herrera is very vocal about her passion for combating deforestation and other climate-related issues. “Now that climate change skeptics are endangering the way that we live,” she says, “it is important to really take a look at what we can do about it. I’m hoping that my work inspires some of that.”
Here are several other poignant works from this exhibition:
By the Light of the Sun (2017)
Made by Nature (2017)
“The Felling” opens tonight at 6 pm at Salomon Arts Gallery. It will be open until December 8th. Stop by before then to see Brenda Perry-Herrera’s gorgeous prints. The artist has also displayed several negatives and sheets of fabric to illuminate her process for viewers. The result is a fascinating multi-media exhibition that breathes nature into the paved streets of TriBeCa.
For more information on the artist contact Salomon Arts Gallery, or check out Perry-Herrera’s website.
Until next time!