Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Christmas Dolls at Figureworks

Randall Harris, Director of the Figureworks Gallery in Williamsburg Brooklyn, has used a personal Christmas memory as an invitation to stretch the creativity of more than 50 artists.

In the mid-1960s, Harris’ sister Jane received a much-wanted doll for Christmas.  It was the perfect gift to steal the heart of a 10-year-old girl.  However, a short while later, her less-privileged cousins came over, and Jane and Randall’s father, feeling charitable towards the cousin, made Jane give her new doll away.

Cue Christmas Calamity: Mrs. Harris was livid, Jane was heartbroken, and Randall ran upstairs to make a replacement doll from an old toilet paper roll.  The incident passed into family legend – and Randall’s father, still alive and well-into his 80s, still has not lived it down.

But it did more than that.  It also began a tradition where every year Randall created a hand-made doll for Jane every Christmas. 

Harris decided to honor that tradition by enlisting 50 artists to create a doll for a special exhibition, with Jane acting as "guest judge.”  She judged the creations of local artists, and would take home the winning doll.

Your correspondent attended the grand opening reception at Figureworks last week, and was on hand when Jane Harris selected artist Clarissa Crabtree.

It was a particular pleasure to see the work of celebrated arts advocate Clarissa Crabtree win the award; she has been mentioned in these pages previously as a champion of Gotham’s cultural initiatives, lending her industry, savvy and business acumen.  Now making her debut as an artist herself with a doll that is both kinky and sweet.  With its mop of wild green hair and homespun gingham dress, the doll looks sweetly and serenely on, a mix of East Village and rural Kansas.  The fingers are elegantly articulated, and the simple but expressive face brand it a delicious piece of urban folk art.

The other dolls in competition are inventive, as well.  One, taking the directive of art and doll literally, combined both by embedding a doll within the picture canvas.  Another droll work was the doll opening a box to find … another doll.

Also on hand was a wonderful photo of a discarded mattress on the street (not an unusual image in New York), elongated with pink material and tape to form a doll lying beside it.  All the works are for sale – except that of the winner, who, oddly, is the only one who cannot sell her work.

This exhibition, compact and fun, is on hand through December 21. 

A quick word about Figureworks, which showcases 20th century fine art that explores the human form. Established artists drawing inspiration from the human figure are represented, and Figureworks handles a diverse selection of figurative art incorporating the male and female nude, portraiture and narratives. Figureworks opened in 2000 and is located 168 North 6th St. (1 block from Bedford Avenue “L” train); Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY 11211.  Hours are Saturday and Sunday from 1:00-6:00 PM, and the Web site is: www.figureworks.com

With Christmas nigh, what better way to start the season than with a trip to Brooklyn to see some interesting, emerging artists create holiday dolls?

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