Lawrence Calver’s first US show at Simchowitz Gallery, “On the Off Chance,” is one of the most fascinating studies in material of any show in Los Angeles that I’ve had the chance to review. Calver is not a traditional fine artist; his background is in creative direction for fashion shows. Here in “On the Off Chance,” he relies on this training and eschews traditional mediums, creating strong, symbolic canvases out of stitched fabrics, often times found fabrics.
The canvases that Calver assembles are rooted in a color-field, Soviet aesthetic. There are strong, bold lines and geometric patterns to the fabrics. Many of the works are landscapes with pared down houses, while others illustrate roughly human figures. They tap into a rustic urbanity, creating within them a conflict between the old (traditional fabrics and dyes) and the new (abstracted forms with an emphasis on color and texture.)
But the true magic of the show, as I suggested before, is the subtleties in which Calver works. We’ll start with the figures themselves. The blocky representations of people in Calver’s works have a common element: pointed hats. While a pointed hat is a symbol used by any number of cultures and peoples, the sourcing of Calver’s materials in India points to the reference being to the Tibetan monk’s pandita hat. This certainly enforces the idol-like nature of the figures and their blank, serene depiction.
And Calver’s sourcing of materials is evident without even reading an excerpt about the show; within the works themselves, Calver maintains the original logo of the fabric companies that he’s sourced the materials. Printed in English, these logos cite manufacturers like Kohinoor Rubia and Bhoja Ram Mukand Lal. The use of fabrics made in India by a British artist echoes the long, colonialist connection between these two nations, a connection reinforced by the inclusion of patches of vintage Western fabrics.
Through his inventive use of fabrics, Lawrence Calver questions our pattern of consumption which has its roots inextricably tied to our colonialist history, and demonstrates what an artist can accomplish with material alone.